Park district shoots for solar grant

Residents, businesses asked to pledge support for conservatory panels

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By Igor Studenkov

Contributing Reporter

The Park District of Oak Park has an opportunity to get $100,000 to make Oak Park Conservatory more environmentally friendly and energy-efficient – but it needs residents' help.

The Green Mountain Energy Company's Sun Club has agreed to give the conservatory $100 for every household and businesses pledge it receives to help make the park district's properties more environmentally friendly. 

The park district hopes to get at least 1,000 pledges – enough to cover the costs of all the improvements. The goal must be reached before the end of the year and, already, the park district made a decent headway, securing more than half of the pledges it needs as of Aug. 8. 

Green Mountain Energy Company is an Austin, Texas-based energy supplier, specializing in renewable, more efficient energy generation. As the company's website notes, its Sun Club works with communities where it has presence – including the Chicago area – to help municipal governments and nonprofit organizations use and encourage "renewable energy, energy efficiency, resource conservation and environmental stewardship."

Diane Stanke, the park district's director of marketing and customer service, told the Journal that the effort started with PlanItGreen, an Oak Park River Forest Community Foundation-led initiative that works to make Oak Park and River Forest more environmentally sustainable. 

PlanItGreen approached the Sun Club to ask what kind of projects they would be willing to support. The park district was brought on board, and it proposed using the funds to add solar panels and other environmentally friendly features to Oak Park Conservatory.

Oak Park Conservatory is one of the park district's more unique facilities. Located at 615 Garfield St., just steps from the Oak Park platform on the CTA's Blue Line, it was originally built in 1929 to house a collection of plants. 

As the park district website notes, the conservatory already has some sustainability features. It recycles water, collecting storm water runoff from nearby sections of Garfield Street and East Avenue, using it to water the plants. 

Stanke explained that if the park district gets the grant, the agreement with the Sun Club would require it to use $55,000 of the funding for solar panels, $35,000 to harvest and reuse rain water, $5,000 for composting and $5,000 for bee-keeping.

Businesses are limited to one pledge per business, while households can make up to four pledges. In making the monetary pledge, businesses and homeowners can also pledge to incorporate sustainable practices, such as planting native plants on their properties, replacing their buildings lightbulbs with LED lightbulbs, agreeing to reuse bags and bottles and using their lawns as gardens. 

The park district must meet its goal by Dec. 31. It started public outreach at the beginning of August. As of Aug. 8, the park district had received 690 pledges.

If the park district gets all the funds, it aims to complete the improvements sometime in 2019.

"This project ties in very well with park district sustainability efforts that we have completed over the last few years for the betterment of the Oak Park community," Stanke said.

Residents and businesses can make the pledge online, at www.pdop.org/about/environment/sustainability-pledge.

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