By Kathryn G. Menu
Students and educators at the Bridgehampton School have spent the last several years cultivating a schoolyard garden and greenhouse in an effort to create an outdoor classroom, but also to promote healthier, sustainable living.
To that end, over a year ago a group of students began working with landscape design and environmental science teacher Judiann Carmack-Fayyaz and math teacher Linda Murphy, brainstorming ways to reduce the carbon footprint of the school, and showcase alternative energy sources.
Bridgehampton high school students Zave Brodie, Ben McLaughlin and Jack Janson took on a project as a part of their environmental design course work to look at ways of reducing the schoolyard garden’s energy consumption.
Now, thanks to a $5,000 Lowe’s Toolbox for Education grant recently awarded to the district, the school has raised about $10,000 for the project. The money would be used to fund the installation of a 50-kilowatt solar panel system on the roof of the school’s administration building, as well as an irrigation system for the schoolyard garden, and a water retention and pump system to reduce the amount of water needed to keep the garden irrigated.
“Our project is to install solar panels to reduce our reliance on finite resources for our energy needs and to install a rainwater retention irrigation system for our growing field,” said Carmack-Fayyaz in her grant proposal to Lowes in February.
“At present, we are heating our greenhouse with natural gas, which is expensive and non-renewable,” she continued. “We would like to create a place within our garden to showcase alternative energy sources.”
“This project would be our first energy project and would showcase how solar energy works and how it can reduce our reliance on fossil fuels,” she added. “We would also like to reduce our use of precious groundwater by recovering much of the rain that falls on the roofs of two nearby buildings. We would like to connect the downspouts to rainwater retention receptacles and use that water as much as possible to irrigate plants in the greenhouse and in the garden.”
Now that the funding is in place, Carmack-Fayyaz said the district is working on the nuts and bolts of implementing the plan.
“The reality is the solar panel system is going to cost more than it did when we applied for the grant,” said Carmack- Fayyaz. “It was going to cost $5,000 but because of changes in the kind of rebates offered for the installation, it will now cost about $10,000. The school district is looking at the proposal and the grant and will determine what our next step is.”
The school will continue to work with SunStream USA’s Brian Tymann on the project, said Carmack-Fayyaz. Tymann has donated his services to provide not just labor in the installation of the panels, but also education, teaching her students about the benefits of solar power, but also how it is properly implemented.
The students originally wanted to develop a solar powered irrigation system, but Tymann advised that for the same amount of money the school could instead install panels on the roof of the administration building, and when the energy was not being used towards irrigation, it could be put back into the grid, allowing the school to collect a rebate from the Long Island Power Authority.
“It was a much more efficient way to go about it,” said Carmack-Fayyaz.
The project has also had support from Steve McGarry from Lawn Sprinklers Inc. in Hampton Bays. McGarry gave the school a small grant for an irrigation system, which has already been installed in the schoolyard garden. Another grant, from Eastern Suffolk BOCES paid for material supplies.
The water retention system, said Carmack-Fayyaz, will likely be installed sometime in the next six months, depending on how much more funding and support the project earns in coming months.
For now, Carmack-Fayyaz says this is just one of several projects she sees coming out of the school’s edible schoolyard and greenhouse. This summer, the district will debut its inaugural Young Farmers’ Initiative for students in grades seven through 12, a summer school program focused on local agriculture.
“It’s never ending what we can do here,” said Carmack-Fayyaz.