Parents protest solar panel location

A group of parents at Dwyer Middle School has started a petition drive against the district's plan to install solar paneling in front of the school, claiming the project would impede the view of the campus and deprive the community of field space.

The Huntington Beach City School District board voted 3 to 2 Tuesday to situate the panels, which are intended to supply power for parts of the school, down a slope from the front of the building at 1502 Palm Ave. The district signed a contract with Chevron in April to install the panels closer to the building, but the board voted to move them downhill after more than 100 parents signed a petition opposing the placement.

Now, the petitioners hope to persuade the district to move the panels away from the front of the school altogether. Parent Steve West, whose children attend nearby Smith Elementary School, has set up dwyersolar.wordpress.com to rally support and gather signatures.

"Our reasoning is, 'Who puts a solar panel on their front lawn blocking their house?'" West said.

As of Wednesday, West said, the petition had 269 signatures. West has urged Dwyer parents and staff to continue putting pressure on the district before the board's Jan. 18 meeting.

Supt. Kathy Kessler said she didn't expect the petition drive to change the district's plans. The starting date of construction hasn't been decided, she said, but the project would likely take three months to finish.

"We are right now proceeding with the direction of the board," Kessler said.

School board member Celia Jaffe said she considered the new location to be a decent compromise visually because the panels would only rise up to the base of the building.

"The new location shouldn't block the front of the school at all," she said.

The contract with Chevron encompasses changes to nine district schools, including upgrades to ventilation and interior lighting. Five schools, including Dwyer, are slated to receive solar panels, although the panels will not be situated in front of the other four schools.

The district and Chevron opted for the placement at Dwyer because it was the most efficient. Officials weighed factors such as the angle of sunlight and length of electrical connections in finding a location at each school, said Chevon spokeswoman Juliet Don.

"The area south of the front entrance of Dwyer Middle School was determined to be the best location for the panel installation based on the age of the building, the location of trees, existing fire lanes and electrical connection locations," Don said in an email.

Moving any of the panels from the location agreed on in the contract would cost additional money for soil samples, state approval and other costs. The board opted for the new location at Dwyer, Kessler and Jaffe said, because it would be less costly than other alternate locations.

The solar energy project, Kessler said, should save the district about $75,000 a year.

Gina Gleason, the PTSA president at Dwyer, said she and other parents approve of the solar program. The problems, she said, are that the panels would block a historic building that dates to the 1930s, and that the field in front, which the community used for jog-a-thons and other events, would be limited. The building is officially designated by the city as a historic landmark.

"We love it, but it does not belong in the front of this beautiful structure," Gleason said. "There are so few historic structures left in Huntington Beach."

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