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Carport will add to student center solar capacity

May 28th, 2020

The solar carport in the parking lot of Luyken Fine Arts Center

It’s hard to miss the new structure that has sprung up in the fine arts center parking lot, with the aim of increasing campus energy sustainability.

The solar carport, which includes two electric car charging stations, came from the efforts of Bethel alumni Richard and Donna Zerger of McPherson, with the support of nine other alumni and friends.

It’s also part of Bethel’s work toward joining a nationwide movement, called the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, to address climate change through high-visibility actions on campuses.

The Zergers “were looking for a way to help Bethel College increase its use of solar energy to meet its electrical needs,” says Richard, who taught chemistry at Bethel from 1995-2010, when he retired.

“The idea of a solar carport grew out of a conversation I had with Roger Reimer,” Zerger says. Reimer works on the maintenance staff at Bethel and has been integral to developing the existing solar collection system on the roof of Schultz Student Center, just to the north of the parking lot.

“Roger Reimer was [also] key to the development of the solar carport project,” says Brad Kohlman, Bethel vice president for institutional advancement, “with support from Tim Sweigert from Kansas Electric and Mark Horst from King Solar.

“Roger is a good steward of natural resources, and has a passion for reducing use of fossil fuels,” Kohlman adds. “He’s known for that” – along with his maintenance vehicle, a golf cart he converted to solar.

“He has the knowledge and experience, and he helped us make informed decisions and put us in touch with the right people for building the carport.

“King Solar and Kansas Electric were very excited about this project and easy to work with.”

Kansas Electric served as the general contractor. Regier Construction and King Solar built the structure.

“The solar carport photovoltaic system is fully integrated with the system installed previously … and adds 52,000 watts of panels to the existing 9,000 watts on the roof of the Schultz Student Center,” says Zerger. “Together they form what I see as the ‘Bethel Energy Center.’

“The college has been very supportive of the project [as] part of a larger pledge Bethel has made to reduce its carbon footprint.”

A gift from the Class of 2012 started the student center solar project, with a second gift, from the Class of 2014, adding to it.

Zerger has long had a strong interest in promoting alternative energy. He installed solar panels for home heating and a wind generator in the early ’80s, a wood furnace in 2010, and a solar electric system from King Solar for his farm and home use several years ago.

In addition to Donna and Richard Zerger, Bethel alumni and friends Chuck and Pat Friesen, North Newton, Jim and Shirley Goering, North Newton, Robert and Barbara Waltner, Mulvane, Kan., Steven Waltner, Benton, Kan., and Kay and Mark Weidner, Lancaster, Pa., also contributed to the solar carport project.

You can track the solar collector's performance at

Bethel is a four-year liberal arts college founded in 1887 and is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Known for academic excellence, Bethel is the highest ranked Kansas private college, at #12, in Washington Monthly, Top 200 Bachelor’s Colleges; ranks at #23 in U.S. News & World Report, Best Regional Colleges Midwest; is’s highest ranked Kansas small college with the highest earning graduates; stands at #57 among 829 U.S. colleges and universities listed by lendEDU as “Best for Financial Aid”; has the #10 RN-to-BSN program in Kansas according to; and earned its second-straight NAIA Champions of Character Five-Star gold award, based on student service and academic achievement, all for 2019-20. For more information, see  Melanie Zuercher

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Bethel College prepares students for meaningful lives of work and service through faith formation, the liberal arts, and practical experience in career pathways.