Sabathani Community Center in south Minneapolis celebrates sustainability projects

People shake hands
U.S. Sen. Tina Smith and Rep. Ilhan Omar meet with Sherri Green, director of programs for Sabathani, on April 22, 2024 for Earth Day.
Alex V. Cipolle | MPR News

On Earth Day, Scott Redd stood with Rep. Ilhan Omar and Sen. Tina Smith in the parking lot of the Sabathani Community Center in south Minneapolis. They were there to celebrate the center — the city’s oldest African American community center — as a leader in sustainability and energy.

Redd, the center’s CEO and president, pointed past a bordering fence.

“Where we’re standing right now, right on the other side, we’re going to put the wells in for a geothermal system,” Redd said.

Geothermal is a renewable energy source that taps into heat from the earth’s crust. Near this, Redd continued, the center will also be installing an battery storage system about the size of a trailer, which is part of Resilient Minneapolis, a project of Xcel Energy and the city of Minneapolis.

“So during times of outages, we can provide the community a place for some normalcy,” Redd said.

Omar and Smith were touring the center’s nearly century-old building to learn about the sustainability improvements that have been made, like installing LED light bulbs and smart thermostats, as well as those in the works, like the geothermal system.

The center is still raising funds for the geothermal pump system, which will cost around $21 million. Janet Brown, a project coordinator for Sabathani, told Rep. Omar and Sen. Smith that they still need to raise funds after the state House and Senate allocated $5 and $6 million, respectively. Brown also said that the geothermal project will be eligible for about $4.5 million in tax credits because of the Inflation Reduction Act.

“I don’t think organizations could do these projects without the Inflation Reduction Act,” Brown said.

Smith said the Inflation Reduction Act opens up billions of dollars to community organizations.

“This community is full of great ideas for how to use those dollars to reduce carbon pollution and improve health and lower energy costs for people,” Smith said.

“A lot of the federal dollars that we fought for in the Inflation Reduction Act for climate resiliency and addressing climate justice have been able to be reallocated by the state to our municipalities,” Omar added. “Our activism and getting this legislation done was also with the intent and interest of making sure our communities that are impacted here in the fifth district, and in Minnesota in general, have access to those dollars.”

The geothermal system will replace two 50-year-old boilers known as “Thelma and Louise,” which Redd, Omar and Smith visited in the basement of the building. Redd said this will cut energy costs by tens of thousands of dollars a year and reduce the building’s pollution output.

Brown said the center, which services around 150,000 community members a year, will also set up a geothermal workforce training program.

Other energy and sustainability improvement efforts include repairing a roof in 2022 that leaked heat, made possible with federal funding that Smith and Omar helped secure. 

“The roof that you actually helped us get was the biggest thing,” said Redd.  

Soon, the center will install solar panels.

“That solar will actually help to power that battery,” Redd said.

Rep. Omar moved her offices to the second floor of Sabathani in 2023.

“The geothermal energy that you are exploring is why we fight for environmental justice initiatives, because we know they are possible, the impact that they can have, not only to the environment but the communities around,” Rep. Omar said.

“I know that Ilhan and I both believe so passionately that the best ideas for solving problems are always going to come from people that are closest to the work,” said Sen. Smith. “And that’s exactly what we saw today.”

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