Solar-powered gates installed at Kane County forest preserves

GENEVA – The Forest Preserve District of Kane County has installed solar-powered, automated entrance gates at 32 of its most active preserves, so the gates automatically will open at sunrise and close at sunset, according to a press release.

Each gate costs approximately $3,600, with a total price of $115,200 for all of them,and their installation will save the district time and money, John Goreth, director of operations and maintenance for the forest preserve, stated in the release.

"Financially, it just makes sense,” Goreth stated in the release. "The automated system will save roughly 3,650 staff hours and 85,000 miles of driving, each year. This allows us to be more ‘green,’ concentrate on other priorities, and increase the efficiency of the entire Operations and Maintenance Department. It also provides better service to the public."

The Operations and Maintenance Department had three shifts, one beginning an hour before sunrise and fluctuating throughout the year. The next shift started at 7 a.m., and closing shift went until one hour past sunset, and again, fluctuating throughout the year.

"After the initial investment and periodic maintenance costs, there are no usage fees," stated Jeremy Jensen, the south operations supervisor, according to the release.

"We’re no longer spending two and a half hours driving between preserves, manually opening the gates," Jensen stated in the release. "Instead of starting at 4:30 a.m. in the summertime – when sunrise is earliest – our first shift now starts at 7 a.m. Time is reallocated during the day to work on bigger projects and more collaborative, group efforts. We can complete more in-house projects instead of contracting things out, and morale is definitely improved."

Visitors may notice the solar panels and signs near the entrances, denoting the change. Another benefit is the gates can be programmed to open and close at specific times for evening nature programs and other scheduled events, Goreth stated in the release.

Installation had been in the works for more than a year, according to the release, starting with Campton Forest Preserve in St. Charles last year.

Two solar-powered gates then were installed at Oakhurst Forest Preserve in Aurora and Glenwood Park Forest Preserve in Batavia. With all three gates functioning properly, with minimal interruption, the district budgeted to install automated gates at 29 additional preserves.

"Another positive has been the increased communication and face-to-face meetings in the mornings. We’re able to do more on-the-job training in different areas. It’s also eliminated some repetition because we can more easily move staff to different projects as needed," Jensen stated in the release.

The district’s trades division installed all 32 gate mechanisms and accompanying signs – a project completed this month.

"The final installation took nearly four months," Brad Treadwell, trades supervisor, stated in the release. "We bought the first gate a year ago as an experiment, to make sure it worked well in the cold, before we invested in the rest. We’ve only had to make minor adjustments. Our staff is thrilled, and the public is glad they can access the preserves right at sunrise. With the amount of time we’re saving in fuel and staff hours, the gates will pay for themselves in roughly two years."

With the gates automatically closing, patrons will need to be sure they exit the forest preserves before sunset. The gates do close slowly however, so should a car arrive at the gates as they’re closing or already closed, the gates are set to reopen upon a car’s approach and close again afterward. Forest preserve police will monitor all preserves, to make sure everyone has exited before sunset.

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