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Solar team faces rainy forecast

Sean Ryan
sean.ryan@dailreporter.com

Gregory Thomson will set his sights high Friday as his architectural student team preps for a trip to Washington, D.C., to compete in the national Solar Decathlon Competition.

Certainly, the assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Architecture and Urban Planning has high expectations for his team, but he’ll be looking skyward for an entirely different reason: The weather forecast calls for rain.

“The only time of the year we need to have dry weather, and we don’t,” Thomson said Tuesday.

On Friday, Thomson and his team of students must take apart a house and load it onto five trucks bound for Washington. The team has been building the energy-efficient house since June outside of the university’s architecture building.

When it gets to Washington, the team will assemble the house at the National Mall and Memorial Park to compete against as many as 20 other universities in the U.S. Department of Energy’s solar competition.

The threat of rain is one extra worry as Thomson and his team work long hours to get the house done and ready to ship on time. Thomson on Tuesday was working outside on the house, but in the basement of the UW-Milwaukee architecture building, students Eric Harrmann and Alex McEathron were finishing a kitchen island and a combination entertainment center and armoire.

“I can see Saturday night being a great night for sleep,” McEathron said.

But first, the team has to get through Friday. The house was designed to break down into seven pieces. But the roof piece will be the first to go, and the team has to figure out how to keep the home’s interior dry once the top is off.

Thomson on Tuesday said he was still thinking through that part while also keeping students on the task of preparing to embark. The house still needed some finishes, plumbing fixtures and lights, and the team needed to inventory and pack everything necessary to reassemble the house in Washington.

Most of the roof was installed Monday just before a hard rain fell Tuesday. A student wearing a bone-dry yellow T-shirt in the architecture building walked by during Tuesday’s deluge and said, “Looks like they got the roof on just in time.”

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