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Series: How green is Mercersburg Academy?

Cate Dougherty ‘25

Nov 13, 2023

As a continuation of the Mercersburg News’s sustainability series, this week we spoke with Mercersburg’s new Chief Financial Officer, Rochelle Hargraves, who gave her thoughts on environmental efforts at Mercersburg from a financial perspective. Hargraves is very passionate about environmental stewardship and has significant responsibility for Mercersburg’s economic stewardship. Fortunately, she sees areas where these goals align. 

Hargraves began our conversation by outlining her ideas for some environmental initiatives that may require up-front costs but will be more environmentally friendly AND cost-saving for Mercersburg over the long run. The two most significant opportunities are building Mercersburg’s solar energy capability and upgrading outdated oil heating systems. 

Given the availability of wide-open spaces at Mercersburg, solar collection is a natural fit. The school is currently in discussions with energy providers over two options for the future of solar energy on campus. The first involves financing or renting solar panels. This requires lower initial costs, but interest rates can make financing more expensive, overall. The second option is to pay for the solar panels upfront. Because this plan involves high costs initially, it draws some hesitation on the part of the school. Ideally, under either option, the solar panels would pay for themselves over time and also result in long-term energy savings and environmental benefits. 

Hargraves sees a second opportunity to improve environmental stewardship by upgrading old oil heating systems, those still used in some faculty houses and Traylor Hall. Upgraded heating systems will lessen the school’s carbon footprint and be more cost-efficient. Hargraves described it as “a project that is geared towards green but also saves money.” 

In addition, Hargraves recognizes minor ways to impact sustainability in the planning of upcoming building projects, such as the Math and Science Building. Hargraves says that the environmental sustainability of new projects is “not a heavy emphasis in the work we are doing right now.” Nevertheless, planners understand that there will be choices ahead, for example, roofing materials and heating and cooling systems. “We will be able to make some conscious decisions, not necessarily be certified for being a green building, but bringing it into the picture,” says Hargraves. 

Beyond these measures, conversations are underway between the Board of Regents and school leadership about expanding sustainability measures. What are the next steps? Before making any major decisions, the carbon footprint of the school needs to be measured. Understanding the baseline of carbon emissions will make it easier to recognize where the school is right now and plan for improvement.

To further Mercersburg’s environmental stewardship, Hargraves believes it would help to build an institutional framework for making decisions about sustainability. In other words, there has to be complete buy-in from the very top. Hargraves, along with Director of Facilities Brian Nordyke and Director of Sustainability Will Willis, have been developing a charter or a charge that will enable a committee to evaluate and review opportunities and provide direction in environmental stewardship. “Having a committee that is dedicated to it is the first step, and then measuring the carbon footprint,” says Hargraves. 

Hargraves’ passion for environmental stewardship has already inspired action and conversation in the school community. In the two short months since she has been at Mercersburg, there has already been movement toward a more sustainable future. There are positive signs that Mercersburg is ready to proceed with significant sustainability measures that align with long-term financial goals. Still, more groundwork needs to be laid to identify and pursue the ample opportunities to improve environmental stewardship. 

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