School board discusses solar power

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By Kirsten Laskey

Running up the electric meter may be less of a worry for the Pajarito Environmental Education Center (PEEC) and the Los Alamos Public Schools.

The two entities discussed during the regular school board meeting Tuesday applying for a $25,000 grant from Los Alamos National Security (LANS) to help purchase photovoltaic solar panels to mount onto the roof of PEEC and/or on a wing in Los Alamos High School.

“I’m really excited about this,” board member Jody Benson said.

However, she worried the two potential wings at the high school, L-wing or P-wing, wouldn’t be the optimal sites because they do not get enough sunlight.

Board president Steve Girrens disagreed, pointing out that P-wing was next to the parking lot.

Chick Keller, a member of the PEEC board, encouraged the school board to partake in the grant. “PEEC is happy to do this with the schools,” he said.

Although there are other considerations, Keller encouraged installing the panels on the PEEC building because  it would be “smoother” and be more effective in targeting single family homeowners about energy efficiency practices.

Regardless of where they are placed, Business Manager John Wolfe reminded the board the solar panels would not make huge impact on generating energy.

Emilio Racinez from LANS/LANL, who helped start the project, said the total cost of the project would be $35,000, which would purchase six panels.

Racinez said the proposal for the grant money needs to be submitted before Sept. 30. If this is accomplished, he felt confident that the solar panels could be installed by early spring next spring.

“It’s doable,” he said.  

According to the proposal summary, the objective is to develop a community-based education program and one-time experience in stalling a residential-scale photovoltaic array to produce carbon-free renewable electricity.

The proposal also states LANL volunteers would assist with design and installation support while LAPS would obtain the permits, inspections and electricians. Additionally, the school district would be responsible for the ownership, maintenance and operation of the solar panels.

While the board was enthusiastic about the idea, they did have questions.

Girrens wondered if the board could accept the check from LANS because the grant is given through LANS’ Community Giving Program, which looks for eligible nonprofits and the board is not a 501c(3) organization.

Board secretary Kenneth Johnson said although the board is not 501c(3) certified, it is a nonprofit.

Wolfe added the board had other considerations, such as how this would affect the lease PEEC has with the school district if solar panels are included in its utilities.

It was also noted that while both entities saw this as an educational tool, it was being viewed from two different perspectives.

Superintendent Mary McLeod said PEEC seemed to be attracted to educating the whole community about energy efficiency practices by demonstrating one of them, while the school district was interested in incorporating energy efficiency practices into its curriculum and having the students learn through hands-on work of installing and implementing the panels.

To accommodate both interests, board member Allison Beckman suggested applying for two grants, one for PEEC and another for LAPS.

The board agreed to continue to explore the issue.

In other matters regarding school facilities, Joanna Gillespie, executive director of Los Alamos Public Schools Foundation, discussed the foundation’s classroom makeover campaign.

The goal of the campaign, she said, is to raise $100,000 to makeover the E-wing in the high school.

The foundation’s strategy is making personal requests for donations of $1,000 or $100.

Gillespie reported they are a third of the way of reaching $100,000.

Sometimes it is hard to get the word out, she said, but the foundation is working with the Parent Teacher Organization, site councils and contacting district parents through mailings.

The E-wing was chosen because it needs a renovation and it is not included in the 20-year plan.  Gillespie added students’ studies can be enriched through their environment.

The foundation does provide assistance to the school district in other ways. Last year, Gillespie said the foundation provided $54,000 to the school district.

The foundation provides funds for teacher grants, professional development, materials and a reward for the teacher of the year.

For more information, go to www.lapsfoundation.com.

In an unrelated issue, the board scheduled a special meeting for 6 p.m. Oct. 2 at the school board meeting room to gather public comment about the Trinity Site project. The project will also be an agenda item on the Oct. 14 meeting.

McLeod said advertising and marketing is being planned for the 20-year facility plan. Display boards, a direct mailing and a presence in the homecoming parade will be used to promote the bond issue.

To help pay for the marketing, McLeod said funds are being solicited and a fund committee is getting together.

Girrens noted donations will be accepted from anyone and checks should be made out to the Los Alamos Schools Election.