Strategic partnerships improve communities in more ways than one

May 5, 2022
man in front of lit up auditorium

The Sabathani Community Center, located in south Minneapolis just six blocks west of George Floyd Square, has a mission to provide people in its community with “essential resources that inspire them to improve their lives and build a thriving community.”

Sabathani is a 56-year pillar in the community and cornerstone of the 38th Street Thrive Cultural District Strategic Development Plan passed by the City of Minneapolis last year. Sabathani serves more than 48,000 individuals annually through its best-in-class food shelf, clothing closet, cultural and athletic activities, and senior programs. Sabathani also supports 20+ BIPOC small businesses and nonprofits with its commercial real estate and enterprise business units, which provide below-market rate office, meeting, and event space.

As a Black founded and led nonprofit, Sabathani serves an 87% BIPOC community that is putting forth innovative ideals including a focus on energy efficiency, environmental justice, and clean energy workforce programs. With its ambitious energy goals, Sabathani has partnered with CEE, Xcel Energy, the City of Minneapolis, Hennepin County, and other community stakeholders to make Sabathani an example of how energy efficiency can provide significant financial, social, and environmental benefits to businesses, residents, and the southside community at large.

Sabathani’s 188,000 square foot, 99-year-old facility started its energy efficiency journey with a building audit performed by a CEE engineer. “From two dying boilers to lights needing to be replaced, there was a staggering amount of work to be done,” says Sabathani’s Chief Operating Officer Ken Rance. “At that time, Sabathani was spending more than $18,000 a month on utilities alone and had a zero EnergyStar score.”

Our engineers brought in a CEE lighting consultant to help Sabathani find cost-effective ways to improve the Community Center’s outdated lighting. After a full building assessment, the lighting consultant provided a report with recommendations, energy savings, and rebates, and helped Sabathani find qualified minority contractors and grant funding for the project. Sabathani was able to fully upgrade the building’s interior and exterior lighting, replacing hundreds of fluorescent tubes with LED tubes, installing motion sensors in its bathrooms and hallways, and replacing incandescent screw-ins with LED lamps.

As a result, the Community Center will save an estimated 213,936 kWh of energy and $28,237 in utility expenses annually.

Sabathani’s leaders knew it was necessary to make the energy efficiency improvements recommended by CEE. The organization looked to partners including CEE and the City of Minneapolis to make the move to efficient technology as affordable as possible. CEE helped Sabathani access lighting rebates covering 40% of the total project cost through the One-Stop Efficiency Shop. CEE also worked with Rance and the City of Minneapolis to coordinate grant funding from the Minneapolis Green Cost Share program, covering another 40% of the costs, and from the Minneapolis Foundation Climate Action and Racial Equity grant. “This project literally would not have happened without CEE’s involvement or support,” says Rance. “There are large environmental disparities at play here, and the funds we saved on this project have helped us build an even stronger Community Center.”

Sabathani’s energy efficiency journey didn’t stop with lighting. CEE’s engineering team also examined the Community Center’s air conditioning system during their building audit and are working on a plan that could potentially save the organization over $41,800 annually on utility costs and eliminate 517 M tons of carbon a year. CEE’s HVAC team is helping Sabathani upgrade 90 conventional thermostats to smart thermostats through CEE’s partnership with Xcel Energy’s AC Rewards for Business program. This will allow the Sabathani’s Facilities Director to reduce energy costs with greater temperature control of the building’s 84 individual air conditioning units, all from a smartphone.

“CEE has been an invaluable partner, helping us learn how to invest in ourselves and energy efficiency.”

Ken Rance, Sabathani COO

Beyond the Community Center, Sabathani has worked with CEE’s New Homes team throughout the construction of their 48-unit senior housing building located on its campus’s northwest corner. The new building is ENERGY STAR New Construction certified and each unit is RESNET HERS certified.

“The amount of time, effort, and resources CEE has brought to our projects over the past three years has saved Sabathani hundreds of thousands of dollars,” says Rance. “CEE has been an invaluable partner, helping us learn how to invest in ourselves and energy efficiency.” Sabathani is also working on innovative systems to help reduce southside residents’ energy costs by adding a community solar garden on its roof in the future. In addition, the City of Minneapolis has designated Sabathani as a community Resilience Hub.

In all that Sabathani has accomplished, they are particularly excited for what this energy efficiency journey means for the community and for BIPOC environmental literacy. “A big misconception is that Black people don’t know or care about the environment and that is simply not true,” says Rance. “We are at the forefront of working in the energy sector and know these updates help us, our tenants, and our community do right by each other and our environment.”

It really is amazing what an energy audit can lead to. “Our partnership with CEE has brought us to the light, all by starting with our lighting,” says Rance. “We hope other organizations can brighten their futures with these types of partnerships as well.”

Related Links

Sabathani Community Center

Lighting Upgrades

HVAC Upgrades

New Construction