School solar project unfolding, with some delays
The Sonoma Valley Unified School District's Solar Energy Installation Project has made great strides forward this summer. As our students return to schools across the Valley this month, you will see the project in various stages of completion. We applaud our community for helping us make this possible. With the passage of Measure H last fall, voters approved this project, and we swiftly sold the appropriate bonds, and began the actual construction work.
In some cases, our local residents have been a bit surprised at both the speed of the installation work, and the size of the solar structures. We understand some residents have been significantly impacted by the construction and that some of them did not receive what they feel was appropriate notice or explanation of construction impacts, and we regret that. Please be assured that we plan to work with our school neighbors to design beautiful, screening landscaping, which will quickly be planted once all construction is complete.
As you may recall, in November 2010 the Sonoma Valley community overwhelmingly supported the district's Measure H bond initiative with close to 68 percent approval. As a direct result of this support, the district is able to move forward to increase energy efficiency in all our schools, including the use of solar throughout the district.
We were able to sell a portion of the bonds in December of 2010. With the intent of including our community in the process as much as possible, we held a series of meetings with both the school board and the community to discuss the plans for solar installation. These meetings were publicized in our local newspapers, and the meetings were also televised.
Why is solar energy a good step for our school district at this time? As we explained throughout the campaign, solar benefits the district in a number of ways:
• It creates dramatic savings in energy expenditures.
• It provides a real environmental benefit by decreasing our energy consumption.
• It raises environmental awareness for all students.
We are now in the process of installing the solar panels at each school site. With such a large project, there are inevitable challenges, including some delays. We wanted to complete most of the construction over the summer to minimize disruptions during the school year. We made great progress, but there is still work to be completed. So, as school begins on Wednesday, Aug. 17, we will still be in construction and there will be some impacts on parking availability during the first few months of school.
At Sonoma Valley High School, for example, the parking lot will be open for rush and the first few weeks of school, but then one-quarter of the lot will be closed at a time while the solar panels are put in place. That process will probably extend through November, and a similar installation will periodically impact parking at Flowery School.
We regret the inconvenience and we will make every attempt to keep the public notified about our progress.
On the other hand, our students will have a living solar energy lab to watch take shape and come to fruition - this is an amazing opportunity for them and for our school district. I hope you, too, will feel a sense of community pride in this project.
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Justin Frese is assistant superintendent of the Sonoma Valley Unified School District.