A new day is dawning at Ruch Outdoor Community School, at least for powering its buildings.

The school, whose new name alone underscores its connection to what lies outside its walls, is the first in Jackson County to make a major switch to solar power. The Medford School District aims to have 33 solar panels installed on its south-facing, newly seismic-retrofitted roof by the end of the school year.

"It's exciting times," said Principal Julie Barry.

Last month, the school was awarded a $24,000 grant from Pacific Power through the Blue Sky Renewable Energy program. The program has helped fund 105 projects in the Pacific Power service area, including funding for solar panels at the Medford Armory and Coyote Trails Nature Center in Medford.

In addition, Barry said, Ruch's parent-teacher organization contributed $9,000.

She said raising community support and writing grants are both typical processes to launch new initiatives at her school.

"We are always trying to find outside sources in order to run the programs we feel are relevant and important to our kids," she said. "When you throw that kind of a number out, it’s defeating when you think there’s no way we can make that much money. But for us, we’re faced with that all the time. We think, what are we going to do to make this happen?"

Eighth-grade science teacher Ryan King is credited with the vision for the solar project, and is planning to incorporate the technology in his curriculum. Barry said the data on how much energy the school will save will also be useful for teaching math concepts with data and keeping students focused on sustainability in practice.

The panels are expected to generate 15,483 kilowatt-hours annually and save the district about $2,000 annually in energy costs, according to a press release from the school district.

Resource Conservation and project specialist Bryan Cid-Hogen estimated that without the grant, it would have taken 18 years for the cost of the project to be offset by the energy savings. He said he expects more schools to move toward implementing projects like this one in the future.

"We’re just trying to grow our conservation portfolio," he said.

Barry said she hopes to see that in the district.

"It would be nice to see that we all are going in that direction, considering that we need to do more to preserve and save our environment," she said.

— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at 541-776-4497 or ktornay@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ka_tornay.