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Tuscarora board votes down plan for solar-powered schools

Proposal to install panels at two schools favored by majority, but falls one vote short of passage

September 14, 2011|By ROXANN MILLER | roxann.miller@herald-mail.com

MERCERSBURG, Pa. — Tuscarora School District could soon be the only school district in Franklin County to heat two of its buildings with solar panels.

At Monday’s Tuscarora School Board meeting, the vote was tight — 4-3 — in favor of installing the solar panels to heat water at both the James Buchanan High School and James Buchanan Middle School.

The vote failed, however, because it required five yes votes to pass.

Voting in favor of the solar panels were board members Clifford Smith, Thomas Black, Daniel Reeder and Harold Hunsberger. Casting dissenting votes were Larry Funk, Donald Piper and Erich Hawbaker.

The main sticking points between the board members is what happens in five years after the government has collected all its data, and who is liable for damages to the equipment, officials said.

Stanley Morgan, director of facility operations, said the solar panels would heat the high school’s cafeteria and locker rooms.
EarthNet Energy in Chambersburg, Pa., would install the solar panels at no cost to the district.

The federal government is footing the more than $250,000 tab to install the rooftop units at the middle school and the ground level units at the high school, according to school officials.

“We have four hot water tanks — two that heat the water for the locker rooms, two that heat the kitchen,” Morgan said.
“This would supplement the heating for both areas.”

He said the hot water in the cafeteria is used for cooking, washing dishes, washing the floor and any hot water for overall cleaning.

Morgan said the high school is currently heated by electricity and the middle school is heated by fuel oil.

By using the solar panels, Morgan estimated it could save the district $9,000 a year at the high school and $6,000 a year at the middle school.

In addition to the cost savings, he said the educational benefit is a plus.

“We wanted to use it for Project Lead the Way (pre-engineering) to be able to collect data, help (students) see how it works, and work with it firsthand,” Morgan said.

“It’s a wave of the future, and a learning opportunity for the kids,” high school Principal Rodney Benedick said.

The solar panels, if approved by the board, will be installed at ground level at the north end of the building to make the area ADA compliant.

Board president Clifford Smith is hopeful that the solar panels will be approved at the Oct. 7 board meeting.

“I believe that this would be an excellent opportunity for students in our Project Lead the Way (pre-engineering) class, and to evaluate green technology as part of their curriculum,” Smith said.

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