By KERRY BENEFIELD
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Investments in solar energy dominate work being done on school campuses across Sonoma County this summer — bringing to fruition the first stages of work financed by more than $141 million in bonds passed by voters last year.
Eight school districts earned voter support for millions of capital improvements from new roofs to upgraded technology, but solar projects dominated the wish lists and for many districts were the first projects launched when students left school for the summer.
“We are on schedule to finish the main construction before school starts,” said Keller McDonald, superintendent of West County School District where $4.6 million portion of a $23.8 million bond measure have been issued for solar arrays on the campuses of El Molino and Analy high schools.
The district hopes to generate 75 percent of its energy costs from the solar panels that are being installed as shade structures, parking lot covers and as roof panels, McDonald said.
At Piner-Olivet School District, solar installations cover parking lots and eating areas accounts for $2.4 million of the $20 million bond that earned approval by just 20 votes out of 5,429 cast in November.
The estimated energy savings will eventually pay for the solar portion of the project, said Becky Leffew, director of business for the 1,600-student district.
“For the cost of the whole project, it would be totally paid for within 15 years. The panels are now rated to last for 30 years,” she said.
In other work, the driveway at Olivet School is being redesigned this summer and Schaefer School is undergoing roof work.
In Sonoma, solar panels will be erected over parking lots, eating areas and installed as ground mounts, said Justin Frese, deputy superintendent.
“Solar has been an all-consuming project this summer and we are going to be pushing right up to the end to get those complete,” he said.
“I’m thinking that we will probably be doing construction work every summer over the next three to four years,” he said. “We issued the first $15 million of the $40 million campaign. We did that because we don’t want to go out and take on all that debt.”
In Bennett Valley, patches of dirt mark where seven portable classrooms used to stand. Twelve rooms are being constructed off-site and are expected to be in place and ready to house students by December, said Steve Crouse, director of maintenance and operations.
Solar panels will be installed on the roofs of new classrooms and eventually on the rooftop of the new multipurpose room.
In Forestville and Mark West, solar is not part of the plan. This summer has seen the re-roofing of four buildings, overhauling of two sets of bathrooms, installing air conditioning in three classrooms and adding technology in Forestville classrooms.
Next summer, the parking lot and playgrounds will be overhauled with what remains of the $5.1 million bond, said Superintendent Bob Borbe.