July 10, 2013 Updated: July 11, 2013 at 9:36 am
Even though clouds and rain moved in to the Pikes Peak region Wednesday afternoon, solar-powered picnic tables were working up a sweat at Pikes Peak Community College.
The school's main Centennial Campus became the first in the state to install an environmentally friendly charging station for students, faculty and staff. The Rampart campus in northeast Colorado Springs became the second.
"I love that they're sustainable and that more people can charge their phones at once," said student Jaycee Hicks, who's studying psychiatry.
Although the college, which serves about 22,000 students each year on four campuses, has electrically powered cell phone and MP3 player charging ports inside some buildings, the cords are short, Hicks said, and students sometimes leave the area while their devices are charging.
The picnic tables provide a "comfortable, shady place to do homework and socialize," while plugging in laptops, phones, cameras, e-readers and tablets, said Mark Giles, PPCC student government president.
Last summer, Giles and the former student government president, Troy Smith, saw the stations in action at the University of Missouri, where they attended a leadership conference.
"They were popular and well-used. We decided it was something we needed to take back to PPCC," Giles said at Wednesday's inaugural powering up of the tables.
Student government worked with PPCC's campus life and sustainability offices to make the project happen. Student fees paid for the two tables, which cost about $24,000 for both, Giles said.
The Solar Power-Doks by Ener-Fusion convert the sun's energy using photo-voltaic panels. A battery bank stores the energy, so the tables work regardless of whether the sun is shining or not. Two USB ports charge music players and cell phones; four 110-volt outlets can power laptop computers and other plug-in devices.
The tables are made from recycled plastic milk jugs and water bottles and also have a meter that shows how much power the sun is producing, solar consumption and available battery capacity.
L.E.D. lighting allows for the tables to be used at night.
"On a busy day, the electrical outlets are flooded with people trying to charge their devices. This is another way to add more opportunities and promote our sustainability program," Giles said.
Other green initiatives include hydration stations to reduce plastic bottle waste, a campus-wide recycling program and a community garden that supplies the college's food pantry.
Giles said if the solar-powered charging stations are a hit, student government will consider adding more.