Carver Center gets new solar panels, playground

Karrigan Monk
Black Mountain News
The town of Black Mountain allocated funds to add solar panels to the Carver Center, with the hope of a ten-year payback.

The Carver Center and Black Mountain Montessori saw some major updates this summer with the completion of a solar panel project and the addition of a new playground.

Black Mountain Town Manager Josh Harrold said the town started looking at solar projects two years ago and partnered with Buncombe County to use the same consultant to do reviews of buildings around the county to find the best candidates for solar panels.

In Black Mountain, the public safety complex, public services complex, the library and the Carver Center were all considered for the project. In the end, the Carver Center was chosen partly because it is a south-facing building and has a flat roof, according to Black Mountain Montessori Head of School Erin Van Note. Harrold said the building was chosen because it offered the best payback for the town.

The town of Black Mountain owns the Carver Center and rents the building to Black Mountain Montessori.

"We're going to kind of use this one as our pilot project to see how the process worked and eventually get those savings, and then we start using that model for some of our other buildings," Harrold said. "We have a plan to install solar on other buildings as well, so this won't be the only building we do it for."

Renu Energy Solutions, a Charlotte based company, began installing the panels in early August. Harrold said the panels are now installed and they are waiting for Duke Energy to connect them to the grid.

According to Van Note, the panels are occupying only about 25% of the available space, but it will still be enough to power the building, and then some.

"It's pretty cool to think that this old 1940s building can be powered completely by the sun with what I would call a small infrastructure," Van Note said.

While the town budgeted about $80,000 for the project, Harrold said the final cost was more than $100,000. The town did not use any grant money for the project, instead budgeting for it and using money from the general fund. Harrold said the town is looking at a 10-year payback for the project.

Van Note said she hopes this is a learning experience for the students of Black Mountain Montessori.

“I’m hoping there’s some things we can share with our kids as well so they can have a better connection of where we’re getting our power from,” Van Note said. “We’re turning on our lights because these panels are collecting energy from the sun, so hopefully we can make that connection for them.”

The solar panels are not the only new feature of the school this year.

Van Note said the school had been planning to update its 15-year-old playground for years, but COVD-19 sent plans into a “tailspin.”

With the help of money allocated by the school's board of directors and a $6,000 grant from Buncombe County Community Recreation, the school has finally been able to complete what Van Note describes as a forest-themed playground.

“Our goal behind the creation of this playground and the reason we went with more of a forest theme is because we feel like it really fits the area,” Van Note said. “The Asheville area is a big outdoor mecca for outdoor enthusiasts getting out into the woods, and so we wanted the kids to feel like even though they’re inside this chain link fence, they’re having a fun forest experience.”

The playground features trails, boulders, a small stage, a teepee fort, a “mulch tea” kitchen, a sandbox, yoga swinging pods and garden beds.

Van Note said the original cost was between $40,000 and $45,000, but because of price increases, the final cost of the project ended up being between $60,000 and $65,000.

The project began the first week of June with hardscaping before Asheville Playgrounds brought in all the equipment the first weeks of August. Altogether, the project took just over three weeks to complete, though there are still some things left to do, including adding shaded areas.

While the playground is open only to students during the school day, members of the community may use the playground during the evenings and weekends.

Van Note said nothing in the playground is there by accident, and she is glad to see it is being enjoyed.

“Lots of planning, lots of intention,” Van Note said. “It’s just fantastic to see how much the kids are enjoying it.”