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Environmental Leaders Celebrate Solar Array

A two-year project to reduce Loomis Chaffee’s carbon footprint culminated on Friday, October 18, with a ceremony celebrating the construction of a solar array on campus.

Among the group of about 40 attendees at the evening event were Jason Liu ’17, who initiated the project when he was a Loomis student; members of the Loomis Chaffee Board of Trustees, including chairman Duncan A.L. MacLean ’90; faculty and administrators involved in the project; former Trustee Joel Alvord ’56, who was instrumental in establishing the school’s Alvord Center for Global & Environmental Studies; community partners; local environmental advocates; and junior Sophie Rodner, a student leader in Loomis’ environmental sustainability program.

The solar array is located on the southwest side of campus and is best seen in its entirety from the back yard of Chamberlain House, a school-owned faculty residence on Windsor Avenue. After attendees gathered at the Chamberlain House vantage point to view the array, Duncan kicked off the ceremony with a welcome to all.

“I am thrilled to join you all here today to celebrate Jason’s vision and to congratulate and thank the faculty members, physical plant crew, and community partners who helped to pull together each of the important details that made this project a success,” he said.

Trustee Doug Lyons ’82, who chairs the board’s Building & Grounds Committee, thanked the many people in and out of the Loomis Chaffee community who helped steer the project through to completion and remarked on the view of the campus from where the attendees were gathered.

“ … [T]he cupola of Founders Hall above the tree line reminds us of the generations of students who have made the Island their home and, with guidance from a committed and caring faculty, have been inspired to pursue their passions and create meaningful change,” he said.

Alec McCandless, former Alvord Center director who is now director of auxiliary programs and head of the Social Sciences Department, spoke of the project’s trajectory from Jason’s original idea to its completion and final “energization,” which is expected to generate the annual electrical power equivalent of 184 homes and reduce Loomis’ carbon footprint by 15 percent.       

Alec acknowledged that before Jason’s graduation in May 2017, Jason had completed much of the work involved with the initial investigation for installing solar power on campus, and had successfully rallied Head of School Sheila Culbert, the Alvord Center, the administration, and the Board to make a commitment to moving the project forward.

Jason’s enthusiasm and pursuit of finding solutions for roadblocks, even as he headed off to Dartmouth College in fall of 2017, “is why we are all here today,” Alec said. 

“What makes this initiative so special is that it was not only a transformative educational experience for Jason, but it also serves as an inspiration for current and future students,” Jeff Dyreson, Alvord Center associate director, added.    

Jeff also spoke of Loomis’ commitment to educating and engaging students on critical issues related to the global environment and pointed to some of the school’s current programs and actions that students have taken in advocating for environmental concerns on both a large and small scale. Environmental stewardship is an important part of the school’s mission to inspire in young people a commitment to serving the common good, he said.

Jason spoke of studying renewable energy as a junior in Jane Philips’s environmental science class and thinking, “Why can’t we have solar power at Loomis Chaffee?”

“It turns out that there is more to transitioning to renewable energy than just climbing on top of Founders and sticking a bunch of solar panels on the roof,” he said. Such an ambitious goal was a stretch for a high school junior, Jason acknowledged, but with the support of his friends, mentors, teachers, and other members of the school and greater community, he pursed the possibility as the focus of an independent study — asking questions, researching, and meeting with key people in and outside the school community — to get people on board and to transform the idea of a solar-powered campus into reality.

What began as the idea of a high school science student, has resulted in the construction of the largest solar array by a K through 12 educational institution in Connecticut, and, according to Jason, has exceeded his “biggest hopes and dreams.”

Sophie told the audience that Jason’s experience has served as an inspiration to student environmental activists living and learning on the Island now.

“The environmental sustainability program at Loomis has gained unprecedented momentum this year,” Sophie said, and she outlined some of the student-led initiatives aimed at environmental activism and stewardship during the past year, including the participation of a large group of Loomis Chaffee students at the National Youth Climate Strike rally in Hartford on September 20.

“Loomis’ commitment to sustainability inspires me to believe there is hope for enacting change on a global level. It is because of the actions of communities like ours that change is going to be created. Thank you for helping to preserve the future,” Sophie said.

Connect to a video from the October 18 ceremony.

Connect to a photo gallery from the solar array ceremony.