No Coal Wanted: Gilroy Schools Go Solar

Published in Gilroy Dispatch

No Coal Wanted: Gilroy Schools Go Solar

After a yearlong delay, work has started on sprawling campus solar energy installations that will save at least $1.5 million and replace the pothole-plagued parking lot at Gilroy High School.

At the same time, ground was broken on June 12 for a new, 20-classroom math building at GHS, partially paid for by Measure E bond funds.

The nearly $13.2 million, two-story building is expected to be completed in August 2018, in time for the start of the 2018-19 school year, according to Gilroy Unified School District Officials.

Solar projects at GHS and Christopher High School, and junior highs, were to have broken ground in June 2016. However, the private firm involved went bankrupt, said Alvaro Meza, GUSD’s Assistant Superintendent for Business Services.

The new firm hired for the project, Borrego Solar, is expected to finish the high school solar projects very early on in the 2017-18 school year, with most of it done by this August, he said.

And while the project was delayed and plans to put solar at two junior highs were dropped for now, Meza said GUSD’s first foray into solar energy still is “on target” to save at least $1.5 million in electric energy costs over the next 25 years.

The projects are funded through a mechanism called a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with Borrego, according to officials.
GUSD explained it this way:

“ A (PPA) is a financial agreement where a developer arranges for the design, permitting, financing and installation of a solar energy system on District property at no cost. The developer sells the power generated to the District at a fixed rate that is typically lower than the local utility’s retail rate. This lower electricity price serves to offset the District’s purchase of electricity from the grid while the developer receives the income from these sales of electricity as well as any tax credits and other incentives generated from the system.”

The deal will last 25 years, with Borrego responsible for the operation and maintenance of the system for that period, and can be extended or the equipment removed or purchased by GUSD at the end of that time.

The District will pay $0.212/kWh for the energy for 25 years. Financing for the deal includes a $1.4 million allowance for the GHS parking lot.

In addition to providing carports at both high schools, and shade, shelter, safety and better lighting, energy savings in the first year, after accounting for the $1.4 million GHS parking lot, will be about $39,672 from both installations, according to Meza, with 25-year savings at $1,510,227.

Work at the high schools has begun with the trimming of trees and other preparations to make sure nothing blocks the sun from hitting solar panels.

That work plus the paving and building of uprights to support the solar panels should be done in roughly two months. Solar panels and other finishing touches will be added after classes resume but that work should not get in the way of school activities, Meza said, although it might occupy a couple of rows of spaces in the new parking lot.

Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017 has been picked as the date for switching on the new solar power system, Meza said.

As for the new, 23,000 square-foot math building, it will be under construction at GHS during the entire 2017-18 school year but is not expected to interfere with activities or classes.
Already started is the digging of trenches to locate and relocate existing power, water, sewer and other underground utilities.

That will be followed by the removal or demolition of existing but aged portable classrooms on the site and, finally, by pouring the foundation for and building the new structure.
That site is, roughly, in the southwest portion of the campus, between the cafeteria and the stadium snack shop and immediately west of the gym.

The snack shop, which has become an almost iconic sight at the Garcia-Elder sports complex, is slated for demotion and will be resurrected inside the new building, according to James Bombaci, GUSD’s Facilities Planning and Management Director.

The sports complex is named after former pro-football quarterback Jeff Garcia, a GHS graduate who funded much of it, and his grandfather, Maurice “Red” Elder, a long time and beloved GHS teacher who passed away in August of 2011 at the age of 95.

Funding for the new building is as follows:
• $6,995,435 from the sale of the Wren Avenue property (old Las Animas Elementary School)
• $1,500,000 from Developer fees
• $4,700,000 from the Measure E bond

The project involves the removal of 14 old portables for a net gain of seven new classrooms, plus four new student and four staff restrooms and office, work and storage areas.
Outside, a new, open quad area between the math building and the cafeteria will facilitate access and student flow and provide additional teaching and learning areas, according to the district.