Among the lush forests of the Sunshine Coast Hinterland, you’ll find Matthew Flinders Anglican College – teaching from preschool to Year 12 it is a sustainable school supported by an eco-conscious community.
In early 2017, the school was looking for a way to reduce energy costs, reduce CO2 emissions and provide a more sustainable community for the families, students and staff across the campus.
It began thinking about solar power and on the referral from another satisfied sustainable school – the nearby Siena Catholic College – it turned to Planet Ark Power.
The project that became the largest sustainable school solar system in Queensland was led from the beginning by Planet Park Power business development managers Will Waters and Tom McVerry.
The pair worked closely with the school’s environmental champions, finance director Sharon Verrinder and property services manager Rocco Perugini, to ensure this visionary educational facility got the solar solution it deserved.
“We selected Planet Ark Power based upon the quality of knowledge and advice provided by them, past experience, testimonials from others, and their unreserved commitment to customer service and outcomes,” Sharon says.
Will remarks that the school is something of a leader in the eco-minded Sunshine Coast area.
“People follow where Matthew Flinders Anglican College leads. They have very bright people driving this initiative and it is a reflection of the community in trying to create a sustainable future,” he says.
“Siena College is an earlier project. They gave us a referral, especially around how we handled the logistics and scheduling around an awful lot of kids. Matthew Flinders needed the certainty of our ability to work around their needs.”
Tom McVerry, Will’s co-business development manager for the Matthew Flinders Anglican College project, says projects for sustainable schools tend to take a long time to get through the management boards and for everyone to be comfortable around the plans. Then, when they say go, they want to move fast and spend their budget by a certain time.
“This means a big lead time in which we can prepare and then we can jump on the project as soon as we get the green light,” Tom says.
In this preparation time, Planet Ark Power conducts comprehensive project planning that leaves no grey areas.
“There are a lot of logistics, scheduling and construction timeframes,” Will say.
“Our biggest challenge is the weather. If you get a rainy day it can push things out a bit. We have to have a plan for that contingency.”
Good thing too. The Sunshine Coast rainy season runs from November to February, and Stage 1 was set for construction during the school summer holidays – right in the middle of the wettest time of the year.
While the December work for the Secondary College was virtually uninterrupted, that was not the case for the work on the Early Learning Centre the following month.
A succession of severe thunderstorms rolled through the area between January 2 and 14 and construction work was held up for several days. Nevertheless, because of excellent contingency planning, Will says Planet Ark Power’s construction team still hit their original deadline.
The flexibility of operating during the school year’s longest break helped of course, but it’s not always a luxury they have.
“During the school year, when we do have to work onsite with heavy machinery, we do it between 530 am and 730 am,” Will says.
“We and Rocco, the school’s property services manager, worked out exactly where each piece of equipment was going to be at all times.”
The construction planning even extends to the strict workplace health and safety rules about working in an environment whose main users are children.
“The school has its own workplace health and safety documentation and we have to provide statements to the school and all insurance providers.”
These reports then form part of the information campaign that, along with other details, is passed to all teachers to share with students.
“It gives them clarity on what is going on – just so they are aware what has been closed off, why and for how long,” Tom says.
This community engagement also has positive effects, with Tom mentioning how he’s often approached by curious students.
“I was there with the drone taking photos and videos one day and 5 or 6 kids in year 10 or 11 came up. They were very interested in what we were doing with the solar system … and the drone too, of course! It was great to see their interest,” he says.
Stage 2 of the Matthew Flinders Anglican College solar system will be installed on the roof of the school’s flagship building – the $11m Performance Centre. This 600-seat theatre has a large roof and because it does triple duty as a concert venue, assembly space and examination hall, there are a few extra concerns.
“This is an important school building and there are only 3 or 4 windows in the year when our contractors can be there,” Tom says.
“Because of this some other solar installation companies might try to dictate terms, but we’re really flexible and work around the school’s schedule.”
Further, working on the Performance Centre also meant controlling sound, and Planet Ark Power engineers conducted sound test to gauge how much of the “banging and drilling” from the roof could be heard within.
“And it is controlling for all the little intricacies like that which you might not expect that makes all the difference to your customers.”
When the Matthew Flinders Solar System got its first report card, the results where top class.
“In April 2018, we did 108% of our modelling – it is over-performing. We always try to be accurate in our estimations, subject to weather. April was sunny and that means it was a good month for the system,” Tom says.
A large part of Planet Ark Power’s construction planning involved working with mains electricity provider Energex to gain the necessary approvals to connect such a large solar system to their grid.
“We do all the applications internally with our engineers. A lot of them are actually former Energex senior engineers. So, when we face a challenge like this – or anything else – we can overcome it effectively.”
An example of an unexpected challenge occurred in the Junior School installation regarding a long cable that had been planned to be laid through existing ducts, but when the time came the plan was not tenable.
An alternative of digging a new conduit under an existing walkway was quickly scoped and approved. Like the weather difficulties, the cable challenge didn’t end up delaying the project in any material way either. Both are a mark of Planet Ark Power’s operational agility.
Even though it is already the largest sustainable school solar system in Queensland, this is still early days for Matthew Flinders Anglican College. It is delighted with progress and is in talks with architects about integrating renewable technologies in all new expansions.
Tom says the success of the project underlines what Planet Ark Power brings to the table: the capability to adapt and deliver a large project across a technically challenging, multi-building site for a client whose operations strictly curb access.
“We maintain relationships with really strong, clear expectations management. Both Will and I live on the Sunshine Coast and we’d drop in regularly and speak with Rocco and the installers,” Tom says.
“Our intention from day 1 was to build a relationship with Matthew Flinders. As the technology develops, new options will come to the fore for them,” he says.
“It’s the same with any client. Every project we do has its own challenges anyway. One size doesn’t fit all. We are never going to just install something and then walk away.
“That’s why at Matthew Flinders we haven’t built Stage 2 yet but they’re already talking about Stage 3.”