Faubourg St. John neighbor Howard Mielke Makes the News
by Anne Cutler of WGNO-TV
At Community Church Unitarian Universalist, the lobby walls are lined with photos from Hurricane Katrina. Just blocks from the 17th Street canal, the catastrophic levee breach destroyed both the church and its congregation. Board President Howard Mielke says it’s been a long road to recovery for the 50 or so members who remain. “The emotional impact ended up just being horrendous.”
Slowly, but surely, the church has rebuilt- the entire time, keeping an eye on the environment. “We talked about this and we tried to figure out how to do it. We asked our architect to work toward being Energy Star. He said there weren’t any good plans out there, so we really had to start from scratch.”
Atop the church roof, workers install an array of solar panels- the final stage of the project. A company called Solar Alternatives has been developing the plans for about a year and a half and installing the panels over the past few weeks. President Jeff Cantin says, “Solar starts off for a lot of people as just a grand idea and they church members, they knew something about it. We started talking to them about what it would involve on the building, but eventually it came down to: how do you make the investment?”
It’s a big investment. The cost is about a hundred grand, with half covered by Louisiana’s EmPower grant program. The total cost of the rebuild ran about $800,000. When finished, Unitarian Universalist will be the first Energy Star solar church in the nation.
Mielke says, “One of the ways we can have a message to the community is that we’re resilient, sustainable and strong because we also are going to be using much less energy and sharing our energy with the rest of the community as a result.”
The church uses the sun’s energy in more ways than one. Along with solar panels on the outside of the building, the inside during the day uses only natural light, thanks to unique architecture, reflective paint and lots of windows. Mielke explains that, “walls are really important. We have very good insulation in this building. R-30 in the roof and the walls are equally insulated.”
So, they’re protected from the elements and protecting the environment. With the new building complete, Mielke says he’s now focused on rebuilding the congregation and hopes their modern, energy conscious church will attract a younger generation of followers.