Thursday, 31 August 2017 07:00

Resident creates green project in conversion of former church building

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The former Grace United Church in Swift Current is undergoing a transformation into a rental apartment building powered by solar energy. The former Grace United Church in Swift Current is undergoing a transformation into a rental apartment building powered by solar energy. Photo by Matthew Liebenberg

Swift Current resident Dixie Green is giving a former church building a new lease on life while also showing her commitment to renewable energy.

She has purchased the former Grace United Church on the city’s south side and during the past year the building has been converted in rental apartment units.
The southern side of the building’s large roof area is covered in 48 solar panels to generate energy in a renewable fashion.
“My name is Green and I really do have a green philosophy,” she said. “It’s a green project that’s really working on making good use of a very good building and recommission it.”
The disbanding of the Grace United Church congregation took place at the end of July 2016 and she became interested in the building’s future.
“I didn’t want to see it wasted and I don’t think we need halls all over the place,” she said. “So I’ve got some apartments and my son Matthew and his family work in reconstruction, renovating, re-doing different buildings, and he got the idea of maybe we should make apartments here. ... That was the motivator, but then I looked at this roof on the south side and it was just perfect for panels.”
The work to convert the former church building into five three-bedroom apartment units is carried out by her son’s company, K & M Home Solutions. He has done several projects to upgrade older homes. The first apartment unit will be ready for occupation Sept. 1 and the next two units will be available about a month later. Thereafter work will continue to complete the final two units in the basement. Each unit has a floor space of more than 1,000 square feet.
“It has taken a small crew a year to come to the point that the three apartments are done, and I estimate it will be another six months before the last two are done,” she said.
The 48 solar panels are already installed and in operation. Installation was done by a Regina-based company, Sunroof Solar.
“Most days it’s producing about 75 kWh,” she said “The maximum it has produced is 91.1 and on a really rainy day it was 35, but on average it’s coming out at about 75.”
An app on Green’s smartphone provides information about the daily energy production by the solar panels and a graph also indicates whether the panels are functioning.
“When they told me about that, I thought how absurd, as if I will look, but I am looking just to make sure it’s working,” she said.
She felt it is important to give the former church building a new purpose because it is a sturdy structure with an interesting history.
“It was moved from the air force base to the horse plant on the south side, and bought by Grace United Church,” she said. “It’s really strong, very solidly build in the 1940s.”
The building was originally used as a mess hall for pilots who received their training at the Swift Current airfield during the Second World War. Thereafter it was moved to the horse processing plant in the city, which was located on South Railway Street West, and during the 1950s it was moved to its present location on the 400 block of 4th Avenue S.E. to house the Grace United Church congregation.
The cost to install the solar panels represents about 16 per cent of the total cost of the project, but Green feels it is a worthwhile investment.
“Probably my business mind says we could have done without that, but my heart and my overall understanding of what we need in this world right now is we need to have more of the green energy, and I made a contribution,” she said.
The solar panels are directly connected to the electricity grid in Swift Current. Green will receive credit for the electricity send to the grid through the City of Swift Current’s net metering program.
Green feels property owners and developers should consider the benefits of using renewable energy technology. At the same time she believes there is a need for government support for this transition to green technology, because it will take quite a while for her to recover the additional cost of the solar panels.
“I think the government is going to have to get into giving quite generous grants to get people to be interested,” she said. “Depending on how much is generated, my guess is it’s going to take over 10 years to get back the investment. So with more generous grants, more people would be willing to put panels on their roofs, I’m sure.”
The City of Swift Current’s net metering program is part of a similar program by SaskPower to give credits to customers who generate power through renewable energy technology, but do not use all that power. SaskPower also offers a one-time net metering rebate of 20 per cent of eligible costs to a maximum payment of $20,000 for the installation of renewable power generation equipment such as solar panels.

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Matthew Liebenberg


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