Smithfield school board denies solar roof project

Smithfield school board denies solar roof project

SMITHFIELD – The Smithfield School Committee on Monday denied contract negotiations for the use of solar panels on the high school and middle school roofs despite an estimated 25-year project benefit of $1.45 million.

The decision came as the result of a tie vote.

During the March 18 school board meeting, Chairwoman Rose Marie Cipriano said she worries about the warranty on the recently installed roof, and is concerned the solar project could leave the district on the hook for damage done once the warranty expires.

Supt. Judy Paolucci supported the project, recommending the committee go forward in the process to complete contract negotiations. She said the committee could back out of negotiations at any time if members do not like the contract.

“We all worked really hard on getting new roofs on the buildings. We cannot compromise the integrity of that warranty. That’s the short end,” Cipriano said.

The roofs on the high school and middle school were replaced using a $5.9 million bond in 2015. Work included replacing the roofs at both schools and the administrative offices, reinstallation of ceiling tiles, and fire alarm upgrades at LaPerche and Old County Road Elementary Schools. Eagle Cornice Co. installed and warrantied the roofs.

The district is two years into a 20-year warranty, but the contract for roof-mounted solar panels with Ameresco would last 25 years. At the end of the contract, Ameresco would remove the panels or the committee could renew the contract.

Steve McDonough of Ameresco said the project would be covered for natural disasters, and panels are capable of facing a New England’s winter snow load and wind storm. The roof warranty would be maintained upon inspection approval of plans, McDonough said.

Cipriano and member Virginia Harnois voted against the project, with committee members Richard Iannitelli and Kellie-Anne Heenan in favor. Committee member Cheryl Hirst-Hodgins abstained from the vote.

Ameresco proposed a 306-kilowatt solar array on the middle school roof, and a 599-kilowatt array at the high school, which would result in an offset of approximately 70 percent of the school’s energy costs, with no up-front cost to the schools.

Iannitelli said the energy cost savings could help close the gap in funding due to a $1.5 million reduction in state aid this year.

He said the School Committee will request a 4 percent increase, or $32.9 million in town appropriations this year from the Town Council.

“This is an opportunity,” Iannitelli said. He said the committee needed to go forward now to not miss the chance to get the panels on the roof by September.

“Right now is a go forward and negotiate. We have time to pull the plug,” he said.

According to McDonough, the project would bring in approximately $60,000 in energy savings each year for 25 years.

Town Planner Michael Phillips said the town sought out a solar company via request for qualifications to provide long-term energy and cost savings for town buildings, approving Ameresco at a Town Council meeting last September.

Cipriano said she was not prepared to enter into a contract with a solar company, and said the committee should have been involved from the start of the process.

Phillips said the town initially entered the contract to look at town properties, but only the high school and middle school could support the panels.