A new spin: GVI plans windmill on Wakeman Farm
Updated 5:36 pm, Monday, July 11, 2011
The Wakeman Town Farm, a historic property that is one of the few remaining links to Westport's farming past, may soon spin into the future -- courtesy of ancient technology.
The Historic District Commission was scheduled to vote Tuesday night on a certificate of appropriateness on a plan to install a new windmill on the roof of a Wakeman barn that dates back to the early 20th century.
Green Village Initiative (GVI), in anticipation of a positive vote, assigned the task of building the windmill some weeks back to the Staples High School Wreckers robotics team, which shared top honors at the First Tech Challenge World Championships in St. Louis last May.
Mechanical work on the windmill will wrap up this week, according to 17-year-old Timothy Yang, who will attend MIT in the fall. The windmill reflects the goals of GVI, which promotes sustainability and community-building through a local focus in order to influence wider change, said Dan Levinson of Westport, the GVI chairman.
The 2.2-acre property the group is leasing from the town -- now called the Wakeman Farm & Sustainability Center -- is an organic homestead that provides hands-on guidance for those interested in local food production, energy conservation, and land stewardship. Having the Staples robotics team build the windmill is part of the group's mission.
The windmill "is certainly the backbone of what GVI is all about," said Dan Khan, a Westport resident overseeing the windmill project. "We saw it as a logical tie-in with Wakeman."
The windmill will be 20 feet tall, but most of it will housed within the barn. Five feet of the device will extend beyond the roof. The power from the windmill, which will be connected to a battery storage system, will be used to charge power tools at the farm, Khan said. In the future, the windmill may also be used to pump collected rainwater for plant irrigation, according to the application submitted to the Historic District Commission.
Yang said he and the rest of the robotics team have "put in about 110 man hours" on the windmill project. Further work will consist of "wiring electrical components and mounting."
"I think producing something tangible from scratch is a really satisfying experience," Yang added.
Central to GVI's strategy is to "activate" wealthier towns like Westport through local programs like Wakeman and use those skills and resources to benefit needier communities like Bridgeport. GVI, for instance, has committed to cultivating gardens in all 30 Bridgeport public schools and completed the first phase of that effort this summer by breaking ground for about one-third of the gardens.
As for the windmill, it is not a costly project. Levinson said it's being built with under $1,000 worth of materials.
The robotics team has considered about four different configurations of blades, but has not yet decided whether to build the windmill with three or six short blades.
"Increasing the number of blades doesn't necessarily increase efficiency," Yang said.
Whatever the final windmill design, Levinson said he likes to involve young people in such projects, "empowering them and helping them to experiment and learn."
The farm also offers workshops, summer internships for seniors, and after-school programs for middle and elementary school students. It is being overseen by Staples High School environmental teacher Michael Aitkenhead, who recently took up residence at the site with his wife and young son. Although GVI got its start in Westport, following the successful effort to ban plastic bags at local check-out lines, it also has a presence in Ridgefield, Darien, Weston and Bridgeport, with GVI town managers in each municipality.