It is the first Catholic school in the diocese to tap solar energy

By Catherine Risling     5/18/2018


St. Norbert Catholic School will be the first elementary school in the diocese equipped with solar panels when the classroom lights switch on this fall.

The Orange school has contracted with EMCOR Services Mesa Energy Systems in Irvine to engineer and install 315 panels on top of the gymnasium and two main buildings that house the office, library and classrooms.

Solar will initially save about $25,000 a year, says principal Joe Ciccoianni, and provide 60 percent of the school’s electricity.

The idea of solar started as a “dream project,” says Ciccoianni, who assumed his post four years ago. Knowing the high cost of such valuable technology, it seemed beyond reach.

Then a generous anonymous donor stepped in.

“I thought this person was just curious and wanted to see what it would take to install solar,” Ciccoianni says.

After bids estimated the project at $268,000, the idea of solar was shelved. Or so Ciccoianni thought.

“Later I realized the question was asked with the intention of funding the majority of the project,” Ciccoianni says. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think it would happen.”

Initial inspections revealed the roof needed maintenance before solar could be installed. The $20,000 price tag would have derailed the project for sure. Founding St. Norbert school parents Terrance and Elizabeth Barry heard about the hurdle and responded. Through their Barry Foundation, repairs were funded and made over the Thanksgiving break.

The Diocese of Orange approved the project last fall and it was full speed ahead. After several painstaking months to secure city permits, Ciccoianni says installation is set to begin this spring. It should take one week.

To maximize solar benefits the school will need to upgrade to LED lighting, an estimated cost of $55,000. In addition, half of the air conditioners need to be replaced with energy-efficient units. Once these projects are complete, which could take several years, Ciccoianni says the solar “will meet 85 to 95 percent of our needs.”

Solar also allows St. Norbert Catholic School to act on Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment calling for urgent action to protect the Earth.

“We are humbled to be able to take steps to be more conscious of our impact on the world and to take steps that don’t negatively affect the environment,” Ciccoianni says.

Ciccoianni is quick to recognize the generosity of donors and the school families past and present.

“This solar project is an homage to the families that pulled together to open this school 50 years ago, who supported building projects with tuition and donations,” Ciccoianni says. “Today, because of the sacrifices of so many in our community, our school will be here another 50.”