In its continuing pursuit to save money wherever it can in order to provide Tri-Town students with quality education, the Old Rochester Regional School Committee on February 27 voted to explore solar energy as a way to save on utility costs and direct as much funding as it can towards academics.
The new school business administrator, Paul Kitchen, said he has been searching for ways to generate revenue for the school district and during meetings with Facilities Director Gene Jones, the two have investigated the possibility of allowing a solar energy company to install a solar canopy above two sections of the parking lot that would provide significantly less expensive electricity for both ORR schools.
One would be located on the junior high side, and another on the high school side.
“The interesting portion of it is the canopy on the field side would generate a savings of approximately $34,000,” said Kitchen, and that is annually. “Our cost per kilowatt would be $0.0998 for the next 20 years,” he told the committee, which would be a locked-in rate.
The district currently pays $0.12-$0.14 cents per kilowatt.
The solar company would lease the solar arrays for a 20-year contract and would cover the engineering, installation, and maintenance costs of the panels.
Kitchen said an example of the solar canopy can be seen at the Bristol Community College (BCC) campus in Fall River, which School Committee member Joe Pires said looks “high-tech” and “wonderful.”
At first, committee member Heather Burke was not convinced of the aesthetics of such a solar canopy, saying, “I think, whenever we undertake any kind of project at the school, we should always be looking at improving the look of the campus.” Burke later said, “Money savings is great, but aesthetics can really instill creativity and hope and pull people together as a community, so I wouldn’t want to just do it just to save money, I would also want to improve the look of the school.”
Pires said in response that the BCC solar canopy “actually compliments the school,” adding, “It’s also premium parking,” especially on a windy or rainy day.
“It’s visibly beautiful,” concurred Assistant Superintendent Dr. Elise Frangos.
“I think it’s a viable option,” said Kitchen.
According to ORR High School Principal Mike Devoll, the parking lot has been resurfaced within the last five years, alleviating some of the committee’s concerns over the current state of the parking lot and how it could be managed beneath a solar canopy.
“I think there’s more work to be done,” said Superintendent Dr. Doug White, “but I think, if there’s support to go forward and keep this project moving forward … we would need the support of the committee.”
The committee voted unanimously to allow Kitchen and Jones to further explore the solar canopy option for ORR.
The committee briefly reviewed a draft of the school budget, which will be vetted during a fiscal year 2020 public hearing on Thursday, March 7, at 5:00 pm in the ORR Junior High School media room, ahead of the joint meeting of the school committees at 6:30 pm.
The next meeting of the Old Rochester Regional School Committee is scheduled for Tuesday, March 26, at 6:30 pm in the Old Rochester Regional Junior High School media room.
Old Rochester Regional School Committee
By Jean Perry