The Sigma Chi fraternity at Fresno State is well positioned for the future thanks to some forward-thinking alumni who donated $177,388 for a 135-panel solar energy system that is expected to power the house for the next 30 years.

The system, installed by Sol-Tek, is mounted on a structure over the fraternity’s parking lot (1456 E. Bulldog Lane) to provide shade, and will include additional security lighting underneath. Soon, two electric vehicle charging stations will also be added.

Mike Patton, who joined Sigma Chi in 1963 as an engineering major at Fresno State, said it tugged at his heart strings to see the fraternity house with so many maintenance needs. This solar system will offset 97 percent of the house’s $17,700 electrical costs each year, allowing the Sigma Chi House Corporation to provide amenities to give students in the house the best experience possible.

“If it lasts 30 years, it will create cash flow that will be approximately five times the original investment. It will be one of those gifts that keeps on giving,” said Patton, who retired five years ago after selling his Patton Air Conditioning business.

According to Sigma Chi’s national headquarters, the Fresno State chapter house is the first known to have a solar system that offsets the majority of its energy costs.

“We’re in for the long haul to serve this community and this University,” said Brad Fischer, president of Sigma Chi’s Fresno State alumni chapter and a senior vice president for Premier Valley Bank. “It puts a challenge on others to take pride in the property and for alumni to reinvest. The Sigma Chi alumni have really stepped forward in investing their treasure.”

The University has been fueled by a long history of support from Sigma Chi alumni of various chapters. Several of the named buildings and programs on campus are tied to Sigma Chi alumni such as Tom Downing, Rodger Jensen, William Lyles IV, Marvin Meyers, Bud Richter, Phil Sanchez, Bill Smittcamp and Leo Wilson.

The solar project was dedicated on Aug. 4 to Steve Heinrichs, who died in 2016. Heinrichs earned a bachelor’s degree from Fresno State in 1968 and went on to serve on national Sigma Chi boards. He earned the Fresno State Alumni Association’s Top Dog Award for the Craig School of Business in 2008. “He was a person I really admired because he was so smart,” Patton said. “He had ways of accomplishing things that no one else would think of.”

The Sigma Chi fraternity has had a presence at Fresno State since 1921 and is known as the largest fraternity on campus. The chapter is involved in several community projects, and raised $10,000 for Valley Children’s Hospital in 2017.

Seeing the pride of current students who attended the dedication and shared photos on social media makes Fischer smile. “This next generation of students is going to be driving an electric car. We’ve got to be prepared to be there with them.

“Whether you’re into alternative energy or you’re a great farmer or manufacturer, what’s impressive is we have alumni who have passion for today’s student and tomorrow’s student and their help can be life changing.”