Board Considers Washington School Solar Project

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday May 22, 2007

The Berkeley Board of Education will vote Wednesday on whether to approve $750,000 in funds from the Office of Public School Construction (OPSC) and $305,000 in PG&E funds to complete a solar project for Washington Elementary School. 

The board first discussed this proposed pilot solar project at the April 11 school board meeting but refrained from giving it the go-ahead. Board members asked staff to come back with a more comprehensive report. 

The Berkeley Unified School District estimates the cost of the project to be $1.25 million, which takes into account the cost of putting in photovoltaic panels as well as replacing the current roof at Washington. 

KyotoUSA, a volunteer group which encourages cities to work with their governments to reduce greenhouse emissions, estimated the initial cost to purchase and install a solar system to be $800,000. The district, with KyotoUSA’s help, submitted a request to PG&E on March 21 for partial funding valued at $305,000. The school bond Measure AA would contribute $195,000 toward the cost. 

Dubbed as the HELiOS Project (Helios Energy Lights Our Schools), the proposed system would cover 100 percent of the main building’s electricity needs. It also comes with a 25-year warranty. Washington consumed approximately 170,560 KwH in energy and paid around $25,505 in electricity costs in 2006.  

School board vice president John Selawsky and superintendent Michele Lawrence both spoke in favor of the project at the last school board meeting. 

“If we don’t do this in the next six months, the $305,000 in funds is going to become $225,000,” because the PG&E grant will be reduced, Selawsky told board members at the April 11 meeting. “We are not inventing the project. It has been done before.” School districts in San Jose and San Diego and some individual schools in Marin have installed solar in their schools in the past. 

Benefits of the HELiOS project to the district and the community claimed by proponents include: 

• Significant cost savings to the district over the life of the system 

• Environmental benefits including reduction in fossil fuel use, cleaner air and reduced GHGs 

• Educational benefits that will flow from the presence of a photovoltaic system. 

• Bringing in new donors and volunteers to assist in expanding the project beyond Washington School and the City of Berkeley 

• Giving students tangible evidence that adults were taking climate change seriously and are doing something about it 


Measure A funds for Visual and Performing Arts 

The board will vote whether to approve expenditures for visual and performing arts from Measure A. Measure A money will be spent for the first time to support both visual and performing arts programs in the school district next year, including dance, theater, music, drawing and painting. 

The board will also take into account recommendations made by the BSEP Planning and Oversite Committee. 


Child Development Services 

The board will vote whether to approve contracts with the Berkeley-Albany YMCA and the UC Berkeley Early Childhood Education Program to subcontract child development services. The California Department of Education (CDE) recently informed district staff that state funding for the district’s child development program could be reduced next year. 

District staff has requested the CDE to carry on the present contracted amount for next year by outlining the district’s plan to: 

• Rebuild the pre-school sites with additional classrooms 

• Develop partnerships with two programs in the area, the UC Berkeley Child Development program and Berkeley-Albany YMCA (Head Start), for the 2007-08 academic year.  

Under the contract, agreements have been set up with both agencies to provide services for pre-school students at an amount not to exceed $200,000 each. 

This step will allow the district to expand enrollment in the pre-schools once the pre-school facilities have been completed.