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Solar-powered Gable House still without permanent spot


University of Illinois students and faculty continue to work day and night to complete a fully functional solar-powered home that will compete against 19 others at the National Mall in a Department of Energy-sponsored Solar Decathlon in October.

But while competition in Washington is expected to be stiff, the University team may face its greatest challenge here on campus, shortly after the event concludes.

After investing hundreds of hours of time and energy in planning, designing and constructing the innovative house, known as the Gable Home, and many of its components, team members would like the house to serve as an educational tool for students, professionals, visitors and community members to learn more about sustainable construction and solar power.

But the proposed location for the home upon its return from Washington, on the south farms near Philo and Curtis Roads, is less than ideal for this purpose, said Joe Simon, student project manager for the Gable Home.

Simon said the final decision for the permanent location of the house will be made by the Facilities and Services department, adding that ongoing deliberations have garnered little success for the team.

While attempts to reach the Facilities and Services sustainability coordinator and other University faculty members involved in site discussions for the house were unsuccessful, Simon said the team has faced strong opposition to the idea of placing the house on campus.

“The main purpose of the home is to teach both students and the public about opportunities for ecologically friendly development, something which becomes difficult when the house is remote and inaccessible,” Simon said.

And according to Suhail Barot, graduate student and chairman of the Student Sustainability Committee, Facilities and Service’s site proposal contradicts the University’s strategic plan to “position the campus as a living-learning laboratory.”

“At such a location, it will be effectively invisible to the student body,” Barot said. “The house is a significant achievement by our students and faculty that should be placed at a prominent spot on campus.”

Barot said there are several possible sites on campus where the house would be far more visible and useful to students and faculty.

One potential locale is its present position, next to the ACES greenhouses, said Barot, adding that the Institute for Natural Resources and Sustainability has also expressed interest in placing the home near their facility.

“The building as a whole has only a 1700 sq. ft. footprint and could be placed at many unused locations on campus,” Barot said.

Those other possibilities include a staging area for the Business Building construction or one of several largely unused parking lots on campus.

While it appears there will be no quick resolution to the matter, victory in Washington could be a factor in the final decision.

Simon said winning the competition would be extremely beneficial to the University in terms of increasing public awareness of the school’s role in developing and implementing advanced technologies for sustainable living, and that publicity could lead to greater student interest and more research dollars for the University.

“Much more than a single competition, the home is about the ideas embedded in each decision that students made and can serve as a platform for education for many years to come,” said Simon.

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