School needs new solar array location

Fri, 05/19/2017 - 11:45am

It’s (almost) back to square one for the Block Island School Committee in terms of adding solar energy to its power grid.

Last Wednesday, the Planning Board, after a lengthy process of public hearings and plan revisions, voted 4-1 to deny the School’s application for a solar array that would have been located on school property. There were multiple complaints from abutters, and the Planning Board cited a long list of reasons in its motion to deny the application.

With no suitable on-the-ground location, School Supt. Judith Lundsten asked the School Board for up to $1,500 that would allow the solar company, Hannah Solar, to visit the school to “pursue a different way on this — on the flat part of the roof to install the solar array there. “ The issue is that the installation must “meet the needs of the grant” the school received to help defray the costs of the array, according to Lundsten.

“Do you want to see if this is doable?” Lundsten asked the Committee. “I didn’t want to bring them out until I heard from you.” 

“I thought it was impossible for us to meet the requirements of the grant if we put it on the roof,” said Committee member Elizabeth Connor. “It wasn’t an option and now it is an option?”

“The technology has improved; that may be a factor in that, too,” said Committee Chair Bill Padien. Lundsten said that the original survey of the roof only looked at the pitched section of the school’s roof, not the flat part.

“I think it’s worth $1,500 to pursue this,” said Connor.

The School Committee also approved a new IT agreement with the North Kingstown School Department that will cost $63,000 a year. That money had been allocated in next year’s budget. Lundsten said that the part-time IT person the school now employs was simply no longer enough to cover the school’s needs.

“We’re getting more sophisticated all the time,” she said. The measure is considered a back-up plan until the town decides how it will proceed on connecting the fiber optic strands in the undersea cable to the island’s homes, businesses and facilities.

The Committee also decided to lease a mini-bus for the next school year. While a van had been considered, Lundsten said that because a van seats so few people, “you’re in effect isolating those students and I know you all work hard to give all the students the same educational experience.” The vote to lease the new, smaller bus was unanimous. 

The Committee hired Carrah Castellanos as the school’s new Bilingual Parent Liaison, who will help facilitate conversations between the school and the island’s growing English as a second language population. 

“I’m really excited about this position,” said Connor.