School House Solar: A Peek Inside an Award Winning Project

School House Solar

A Peak Inside Todd Schneider’s Award-Winning Solar-Powered Sustainable Development Project

The accolades have been pouring in for the School House Apartments in Fort Madison, Iowa. The former middle school and sustainable apartment complex won Solar Builder‘s 2016 Project of the Year Award in the Roof-Mount solar array category and the 1000 Friends of Iowa Best Development Award in the Renovated Residential category.

The School House Apartments project is the brainchild of Todd Schneider, a real estate developer and southeast Iowa visionary. The school was built in 1922 and decommissioned in 2013. Schneider purchased it soon after with an eye to converting it into high-quality, affordable apartments. His multi-year project wrapped up in 2016. The building houses 37 unique units ranging in price from $675 to $1200 per month, including all utilities and Internet.


Schneider needed funding to make the project happen. “You can’t do a building like this without funding,” Schneider said. “The amount of money you need to put into it for demolition and reconstruction, you just wouldn’t get a return.”

He applied for Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) flood relief funding available via the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA). Schneider met with IEDA officials to see what they wanted in applications. “They gave me some insight,” Schneider said. Sustainability was high on the list.

Schneider developed a plan including 300 kilowatts of solar power, Iowa Green Streets-compliant plumbing fixtures, and additional insulation.

Ideal Energy worked closely with Schneider to incorporate solar energy into the application process. Up against 66 other applicants with over $120 million worth of proposals, Schneider won $2,980,000 in CDBG funding–a quarter of the $12 million available.

Schneider believes solar power set his application apart from the crowd. Solar “could be very responsible,” he said. “I believe it is. And that’s why I put it into the project.”


The School House Apartments has achieved a lot in a short time. Within months of opening its door, the complex was 100% rented and profitable.

Press and politicians have been drawn to the project. It’s been covered by the Des Moines Register, the Fort Madison Daily Democrat, Tri States Public Radio, and Cityscape Magazine. Governor Terry Branstad visited the project twice during construction.

Now the project is also award winning. Twice, in fact!

School House Apartments won Solar Builder’s 2016 Project of the Year Award in the Roof-Mount category. Here’s how Solar Builder sums up the awards in its call for submissions:


“Was the installation innovative in some way? Did it help a community? Does it just look really awesome? As long as it’s inventive and innovative, it’ll qualify for our 2016 Project of the Year awards.”


The magazine wrote, “For the fourth year running, we asked all of you to submit your best/coolest projects to be named a Project of the Year.” Check out the announcement to see why Solar Builder thinks Schneider’s project was the coolest, most innovative community-oriented solar project in 2016.

1000 Friends of Iowa bestowed their 2016 Best Development Award in the Renovated Residential category to the School House Apartments. Here’s how 1000 Friends of Iowa describes the Renovated Residential category:

“Notable aspects include but are not limited to reinvestment in an existing property and community, plus use of sustainable building materials, salvaging of existing materials, promotion of connectivity, public transportation, and walkability, accessibility to affordable or mixed market-rate housing, and adherence to historic preservation practices if applicable.”


School House Apartments ticks all the boxes and then some. See what 1000 Friends of Iowa wrote about the project’s community reinvestment, historic preservation, and sustainable design.


Sustainable development is a win-win.

The Fort Madison School District saved nearly half a million dollars by avoiding a costly demolition. Schneider was able to use grants and tax credits not available to the school district. The Fort Madison community preserved its historic school, has more high-quality housing available, and can be proud of its green reputation.

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