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Solar panels make Akron's new transit center a leader in Ohio

Posted by Karen Farkas/Plain Dealer Reporter December 31, 2008 04:39AM

Categories: Real Time News
Kirt Conrad(cq), Director of Planning and Development, walks on top of the new Akron Metro RTA facility.

What: METRO Transit Center open house, 631 S. Broadway, Akron.

When: Noon to 4 p.m. Jan. 10

Rides: A free loop bus will run from downtown on Main Street or people can drive to the center.

Opens: Jan. 18

Routes: On Jan. 18 all METRO bus routes will have changes. To learn more about the routes or the center go to Akronmetro.org or call 330-762-0341.

Akron -- Indoor restrooms and a warm waiting area will please bus riders at the new METRO Regional Transit Authority transit center. But it's what's above and below them that distinguishes the sleek building.

Lining the roof are 432 solar panels, the largest single array in Ohio, which will provide about 33 percent of the facility's annual needs. A geothermal heating and cooling system includes 45 wells drilled 305 feet into the earth.

"We want to be a leader in alternative transit and alternative energy," said Kirt Conrad, director of planning and development for METRO RTA. "This 'green' building developed as we were going along."

Forty-six of the transit authority's 136 buses run on compressed natural gas.

The new center, on South Broadway, opens Jan. 18. It replaces a downtown transfer area on South Main Street, an outdoor site that is controlled chaos as people try to find their buses or have to dash across four lanes to catch another bus. There are no public restrooms or indoor waiting areas, said Molly Becker, spokeswoman for the agency.

Each day about 4,000 of METRO's 22,000 daily bus riders need to transfer buses, Conrad said. Roughly 32 bays at the new center will be used for bus routes. Electronic signs will announce departure times.

The city's Greyhound bus station will move to the center and use four bays. The company will pay $40,000 a year. About 600 people take one of Greyhound's 18 daily trips, Becker said.

METRO had sought land and worked on plans for a center for 10 years. The city donated 8.3 acres worth $2.3 million at a former Conrail railroad yard. The Federal Transportation Administration provided $12 million, the Ohio Department of Transportation allocated $2 million and the remaining $1.7 million came from METRO and other local matches.

Besides installing the solar panels and geothermal system, officials made sure the project included other "green" features. For instance, rainwater will be stored to use in restrooms and landscaping. And about 75 percent of the construction waste was recycled.

Conrad said officials wanted to be environmentally friendly, but not at too high a price or with untested products. While the geothermal system is expected to break even on cost, compared to natural gas, it will take about 10 years to recover the cost of the $1.1-million solar panel system, he said.

The solar project was the biggest one to date for Third Sun Solar and Wind Power in Athens, said owner Geoff Greenfield.

Each 108-pound panel has 310-watt modules, he said. The total array is 133.9 kilowatts. The average house with solar panels has a 6 kilowatt array, he said.

People will be able to monitor the solar system's performance online through METRO, Becker said. In fact, since the facility has free Wi-Fi, they can use their laptops while waiting for the bus. The center also has a meeting room that any organization can use and public art space. METRO hopes to lease 1,100 square feet for a caf /gift shop.

One thing the center does not have is parking spaces.

"We are not a park and ride," Becker said. "We will not even allow employees to park here - they have to take the bus."

COMMENTS (4)Post a comment
Posted by jonlight on 12/31/08 at 7:11AM

Good to see the Akron Metro doing this.

I doubt that RTA woule ever think about doing something like this, having a "green" building.

Posted by tomrivers on 12/31/08 at 7:42AM

This actually was a nice project to watch being built. Our offices are across the street and it is a very nice addition to the area.

Posted by Masek on 12/31/08 at 9:51AM

We're glad to see Akron making a "green" statement. If you visit the West 65th Street Rapid Station, part of Eco Village, you'll see what is believed to be the first "green" rail station in the nation.

Posted by 11son on 12/31/08 at 12:50PM

It's too bad that RTA doesn't go "green" inside there buildings where the "harmless" diesel fumes (RTA's opinion) appear to be causing a high rate of cancer among current and former employees.