The Missoula YMCA recently received free labor for a complete lighting makeover thanks to an electrical contractor's unique solution to cope with the Missoula shutdown.
When the coronavirus hit Montana and mandatory shelter-in-place orders went into effect, Eric Petersen, owner of Professional Electric Technology Energy Services (PETES) Electric, knew he had to get his employees back out to work as soon as safely possible.
His company, an electrical contracting business that installs, appraises and e-recycles, among other tasks, was facing the all-too-common challenge of the coronavirus economy during lockdown. The business had lost more than $1 million in canceled projects due to the shutdown. So Petersen and his wife had an idea: donating free labor to nonprofits in Missoula for electrical work.
“This wouldn’t have happened if COVID didn’t happen,’” Petersen said. “We wanted to do something good. We knew we could benefit the community in so many ways.”
Peterson posted on Facebook that his company would offer free electrical labor from April 20 to June 1. The response was swift and overwhelming. At least 10 nonprofits, including the YMCA, Youth Homes, The Roxy, FreeCycles and the Missoula Carousel took Peterson up on the offer.
In total, PETES Electric donated almost $25,000 in labor, he said. Petersen's employees were paid for their work. The $25,000 in labor came from a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan, an initiative sponsored by the U.S. Small Business Administration. Petersen used that money to fund his employees' work instead of charging clients like the YMCA directly.
Of the total, $18,000 was spent at the YMCA, where every non-emergency fluorescent light bulb was replaced with far more efficient and environmentally friendly LED bulbs. More than 1,100 lights were replaced.
“It was a big project,” said PETES coordinator Bill Hillman. “We wanted to make sure we could hit our deadline.”
Hillman worked at the Missoula YMCA during college as a camp leader for Camp Imagination. His son, Carl, also worked as a YMCA camp counselor. Hillman said it was rewarding to give back to an organization that has given him and his family work in the past.
The YMCA team was beyond excited at the PETES offer.
“We jumped on the offer right away,” said Heather Foster, CEO of the YMCA. “I had staff asking me constantly, ‘Did you talk to the PETES Electric guys yet?’”
Foster said this project had been in the works for awhile, but that her administration had been struggling to find funding. When Petersen posted the Facebook call-out, it was the opportunity she had been waiting for. Perhaps even more than the financial relief that came with the project, it helped her feel grounded in a time of uncertainty.
“It meant so much in a crisis, to have something to focus on,” she said. “It felt like something concrete, something to do.”
Not only is the renovation good for the YMCA’s image — brighter lights and newer fixtures sharpen the look of the lobby, pool, basketball courts and health and wellness center — LED lights are much better for the environment. They are significantly more efficient than fluorescent bulbs, and as a result only a fraction of the energy given off by LED lights is wasted as heat. This means lower air conditioning costs in the building. As a result, the YMCA will be paid rebates by Northwestern Energy — incentives for lowering maintenance costs — at $4 per light, or $4,400 total.
The new bulbs will cut down the YMCA’s energy output by more than half.
“It’s a great step in the right direction toward helping our building be more efficient and green,” Foster said.
Petersen isn’t sure yet if his philanthropic efforts will pay off financially. Still, that’s not all that’s important to him.
“I certainly don’t lose any sleep at night,” he said. “Even if it doesn’t turn out, I know we did something good for the community.”
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