Cambridge Central School launches solar-powered floating classroom

Students of Cambridge Central School in Cambridge, New York, prepare for a trip out onto Hedges Lake aboard the school's floating classroom, which is now 100 percent solar-powered.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.  

CAMBRIDGE, N.Y. — Cambridge High School's environmental science program's floating classroom has received a renewable upgrade.

The 20-foot long pontoon boat, owned by the school, has been converted to an all-electric drive system, powered by solar energy. Grant money was used to purchase a 20-horsepower electric outboard motor, battery banks, and solar panels to make the boat 100 percent renewable. The boat was converted with help from district bus garage mechanics, Bill Casey and Dan McDermott. The battery system is recharged via a thin film solar panels that are mounted on the boat.

The boat is used as an outdoor classroom for the monitoring of local water resources by Cambridge students studying the environmental sciences. The program was created by CCS teacher Steve Butz, who has been developing the project as part of a long-term study that his environmental science students have been conducting at nearby Hedges Lake.

Since 2003, Butz and his students have been monitoring the water quality of the local lake, once a month, throughout the school year. The long-term lake study has been supported with funding in part from the Hedges Lake Association.

Butz created the floating classroom last year using an environmental education grant from Sen. Betty Little and former Sen. Kathy Marchione.

Over the past year, 58 students have utilized the floating classroom to perform physical, chemical, and biological assessments of the lake, both at the surface and at different depths, along with exploration of the bottom zone. Butz and his students are interested in determining if Hedges lake is a unique type of lake classified as being a meromictic, which has a permanent hypoxic (low oxygen) zone at the bottom. This type of lake is very rare and is useful for the study of climate change, archaeology, and biology.

The use of a boat will allow students to explore the lake bottom environment with a remotely operated vehicle equipped with a camera and sampling equipment. The program has provided students the opportunity to perform real scientific research while in high school. Their work is part of a long-term water quality monitoring project during the school year in Butz's UHS Environmental Science course. This course is a 4-credit college lab science course, which is accredited by SUNY Adirondack.

The boat is also used during the summer as part of an enrichment course for students, called The Floating Classroom. This summer will mark the second year of the program. Students in grades 9-12 are able to participate. Students interested in this summer's program can contact Butz at Cambridge Central School or e-mail him at


If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us.
We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.