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November 20, 2011

Fitness center gets greener with Sun Shower Project

GOSHEN — Sunbathing is about to take on a whole new meaning at Goshen College’s Roman Gingerich Recreation-Fitness Center thanks to the college’s soon-to-be-completed Sun Shower Project.

First initiated back in 2008 by a group of GC physics students, staff and faculty members, the Sun Shower Project involves the construction of a new solar-powered water-heating system on campus that when completed will provide most of the hot water for the showers in the rec-fitness center.

“About three years ago there was a group of students, a professor and a number of staff who were interested in doing something renewable on campus, and the idea that came up was to try and create a system to heat shower water in the rec-fitness center,” said Isaac Yoder-Schrock, a senior physics major from Iowa who has been heavily involved in the project’s evolution. “The reason we chose to focus on the rec-fitness center is because many of the buildings on campus are used during parts of the year, but not during the entire year, whereas the rec-fitness center is used year round.”

According to Steve Shantz, systems operation technician at GC, the first two years of the three-year project were spent primarily coming up with design and implementation specs for the system, while a majority of the actual construction of the project began earlier this fall.

“The design of the system is actually a little unusual, where we have eight banks of evacuated tubes, or solar collectors, on a rack above ground, and then a large 4,000 gallon tank that we buried mostly under the ground beneath the solar collectors,” Shantz said. “When the sun shines, the plan is to pump the cool water from the bottom of the tank through the heat-collecting part of these tubes, and then the water goes back into the tank and sits on the top, because hot water actually floats very nicely on cold water. So during the day, the objective is to heat that tank as much as we can, and then if we collect more than we use, we can kind of bank that extra warm water for when we have cloudy days.”

As for the cost of the Sun Shower Project, Yoder-Schrock said the group had initially sought to secure a state grant when considering various funding sources, but nixed the idea after learning that receipt of such a grant would require a significant amount of lost autonomy.

“Unfortunately the state grant would have made it impossible for us to do much of the design work ourselves,” Yoder-Schrock said of the primarily student-driven project. “It would have to be done by professors or people completely licensed, so that made it much more difficult for us to do it as an organic project ourselves.”

With a state grant no longer an option, Yoder-Schrock said the group’s next option was to seek assistance from the college itself.

“So we decided to contact the Economic Stewardship Committee here at the college, and they ended up providing us a matching grant, which along with private donations has totally funded the project,” Yoder-Schrock said. “While cost for projects like this can really vary depending on the price of raw materials, I think ours came out to around $45,000.”

With the anticipated completion date of the Sun Shower Project now only two to three weeks away, Yoder-Schrock said he’s excited to finally be nearing the end of what has proved to be a very intensive, time-consuming, yet ultimately rewarding endeavor.

“It definitely took a little more time and energy than I ever expected,” Yoder-Schrock said with a laugh. “But it has been rewarding too. And not just for me. There is quite a large group of individuals whose combined efforts helped get the project to where it is today, so it was really an impressive collaborative effort.”

What’s more, Yoder-Schrock said it’s thrilling to know that all the work he and his colleagues have put into the Sun Shower Project over the years will not stop with them, but will in fact play an integral role in moving the college forward in its goal of one day becoming a carbon neutral campus.

“By building something like this, you make the statement that you’re making the choice to be more energy efficient,” Yoder-Schrock said. “This is a project that, in addition to saving energy, is a way to say we are visibly making an effort to use less and saving energy in the long run.”

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