Irvine to host Solar Decathlon 2013 and XPO featuring energy-efficient homes of tomorrow

The City of Irvine is hosting a unique educational opportunity — one that happens to align nicely with IUSD’s recent solar initiative.

Twenty solar-powered homes of the future, all designed by teams of college students, will be on display at the Orange County Great Park during the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon 2013 and XPO. The event is free and will be open to the public from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. for two straight weekends, Oct. 3 through Oct. 6 and Oct. 10 through Oct. 13.

About 800 college students spent up to two years designing and constructing the fully functional houses, which incorporate features and technologies designed to reduce carbon emissions while maintaining modern comforts. Their efforts culminate in a final competition, with judges deciding which home has most capably blended affordability, efficiency, energy production and curb appeal.

Meanwhile, the rest of us get to play the part of the nosy neighbors.

Obviously anyone with an interest in innovative home designs may want to tour these houses, but organizers say this will also be a great experience for kids, particularly those interested in science, technology or architecture.

Speaking of kids, Irvine students from Scott Bedley’s class at Plaza Vista School have been participating in an ongoing series of video chats with the team from Santa Clara University, so there’s a bit of a local connection. Here’s a preview of Santa Clara’s house, as published in the fall 2013 edition of Inside Irvine magazine:

Santa Clara University’s Radiant House is driven by the three E’s: efficiency, elegance and economy. The house carries the University’s tradition of using bamboo to a new level, using the sustainable material for structural wall and joist systems. With a  spacious and versatile “Great Room,” a large deck and patio area, and clean separation between private and public spaces, Radiant House offers an elegant, adaptable and affordable solution that balances the cutting edge with deceptive simplicity.

Radiant House uses inexpensive, commonly available materials in new and innovative ways with features that push the boundaries of architectural design. Features include a structural system, including wall and joist systems, made completely of bamboo — much of which is in raw, unrefined form to avoid the need for unsustainable treatment; solar panels that are seamlessly integrated into the roof structure using an integrated rail system; a front carport with electric car charging station; a generous, living space with high ceilings and clerestory windows that fill the interior with light and open to allow hot air to rise and escape; and spacious, accessible elements including a fullsized bathroom, walk-in closet, spacious kitchen and expandable dining table that can accommodate up to 12 guests.


The Solar Decathlon 2013 and XPO will also feature other interactive exhibits and activities, all promoting energy efficiency in home design, transportation, consumer products, food production and education. Check out the video above or the event’s website for more information.

Local bank teams up with philanthropic group to bring a school garden to Eastshore

Eastshore Elementary School has long yearned for its own school garden. Now, thanks to some philanthropic volunteers from Silicon Valley Bank in Irvine, it’s coming.

On Wednesday afternoon, about 20 bank employees and representatives from the group OneOC began prepping a 12-foot-by-40-foot patch of land on Eastshore’s south walkway for planting beds. Dozens of primary and upper-grade students, who will ultimately take over as farmers, gathered as school ended to show their appreciation.

Principal Lisa Kadam told us the first phase will bring flowers, shrubs and fruit trees, but the garden will evolve into a source of fresh produce for the Second Harvest Food Bank, which fights hunger in Orange County. In addition, the school plans to grow crops that align with standards-based lessons in science and social science, Kadam said.

“The students, staff and community are grateful to the generosity of Silicon Valley Bank, which helped this school dream become a reality,” she said.

District officials, local dignitaries break ground on Irvine’s next elementary school

It’s a whole lot of dirt now, but over the next 15 months this empty plot of land south of Jeffrey Road and east of the Santa Ana (5) Freeway will be transformed into a state-of-the-art campus for Irvine elementary students.

IUSD officials staged a groundbreaking ceremony here for Cypress Village Elementary School on Wednesday morning, marking the occasion with a modest reception that featured remarks by Board of Education President Dr. Gavin Huntley-Fenner and Superintendent Terry Walker.

A number of other local dignitaries were also in attendance, including school board members Paul Bokota, Lauren Brooks and Sharon Wallin; Irvine Mayor Steven Choi and City Manager Sean Joyce; Irvine Company Senior Vice President Mike LeBlanc and Vice President of Community Affairs Robin Leftwich; Irvine Public Schools Foundation President Neda Eaton; and IUSD assistant superintendents Cassie Parham and John Fogarty. Each picked up a shovel to dig a little earth, embracing a ritual that has long signaled the start of construction.

We were there too, of course, to document this latest historic moment for the Irvine Unified School District — and because we heard there might be refreshments. You can check out our brief video above.

Set to open in September 2014, Cypress Village Elementary was officially named back in March by the Board of Education. The campus will be located at 355 Rush Lily in an area of new development previously known as Planning Area 40. Expect to hear more in the months ahead.

Service-learning takes root during Earth Day project at Alderwood Elementary School

OK, so we’re a little late with this one, but we wanted to share a quick story about Earth Day at Alderwood Elementary School.

Sixth-grade teacher Dan Grubb tells us that volunteers from Cox Communications and OneOC arrived on April 22 to help prep the school’s planting beds with new top soil. Pairs of sixth-graders took it from there, planting zucchini and cucumbers that the students grew from seeds.

Alderwood also expanded its growing capacity by building a special hydroponics system that used coconut coir inside a recyclable plastic bag instead of traditional soil. Grubb called it a “grow wall,” and it took shape with the help of former Alderwood student Clifford Kao, who is now the agrosystems director for AmeriPacific.

The work, Grubb said, was part of a service-learning project that produced food for the Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County and offered a curricular connection.

“There is a direct connection to the ancient civilizations and the agricultural revolution,” he said. “All of these civilizations flourished because of a surplus of crops. … The grow wall is new technology and very different from agriculture in ancient times, like the raised beds we are using now.”

Incidentally, that wasn’t the only way Grubb chose to celebrate Earth Day. He also rode a Pedego electric bike to work from his home in Portola Hills, with the 11.2-mile trip taking him about 30 minutes.

Vehicle shade structures outfitted with solar panels coming to nine IUSD schools

Vehicle shade structures outfitted with energy-producing solar panels will be added to the parking lots of nine campuses, saving the district an additional $305,000 a year, following a vote this month by the IUSD Board of Education.

Board members voted 3-1 on Tuesday, July 10 to approve the second phase of IUSD’s ambitious solar initiative after removing three schools from consideration based on their proximity to local homes. Board president Michael Parham, who has spearheaded the district’s pursuit of solar energy, voted in favor of the plan, along with Sue Kuwabara and Carolyn McInerney. Gavin Huntley-Fenner dissented after advocating for the structures at five schools, and Sharon Wallin was not in attendance.

“This is an historic step for the Irvine Unified School District, which is now poised to leverage one of the largest solar deployments of any public school system in the United States,” Parham said after the meeting.

“As we continue to grapple with the state budget crisis, it is critical that we look for creative ways to maximize all of our existing resources,” he added. “This project essentially puts our rooftops and parking lots to work, generating significant savings that are unrestricted and available for educational priorities. At the same time, it’s the right thing to do for the environment, and it presents tremendous educational opportunities for our students.”

IUSD is already saving about $220,000 a year from the first phase of the project, which in 2010 and 2011 added photovoltaic tiles to the rooftops of 13 schools and vehicle shade structures to the parking lots of two additional district facilities. By entering into a mutually beneficial power-purchasing agreement with SunEdison, IUSD district paid no upfront capital costs.

The same will be true for phase two, which will place additional solar shade structures at Alderwood, Stonegate and Woodbury elementary schools; Vista Verde School, which is a K-8; Irvine, Northwood, University and Woodbridge high schools; and the new Jeffrey Trail Middle School.

The combined first-year savings for both phases is now projected at nearly $525,000, but the benefits extend beyond the budget. Phase one of the project produced enough energy to power 167 homes and had the equivalent impact of removing 378 cars from the road. Meanwhile, solar power was integrated into the district’s energy curriculum, and Irvine students have been able to monitor their own energy consumption in real time.

Based on these successes, a recommendation for a second phase was presented at the Board of Education’s May 15 meeting. But board members postponed the vote and asked for a greater effort to gauge community interest.

Mark Sontag, IUSD’s administrative lead on the project, said Tuesday that the district has since sent out nearly 8,800 fliers that encouraged feedback through an online input form on the IUSD website. The notices were mailed to homes within a quarter-mile radius of the proposed sites, as well as to residents in connecting neighborhoods. In addition, the district emailed nearly 19,000 residents, posted detailed information on its website and passed along updates via the IUSD NewsFlash, Facebook and Twitter.

Of the nearly 28,000 communications sent out, the district received only 49 negative responses, Sontag said, and 30 of those referenced Oak Creek and Canyon View elementary schools, which were on the original list of sites under consideration.

Board members ultimately removed Oak Creek, Canyon View and Sierra Vista Middle School from consideration, citing their proximity to nearby homes.

The Orange County Register also has the story here.

IUSD sends out notices encouraging the public to weigh in on second phase of solar project

At the direction of its Board of Education, the Irvine Unified School District has mailed out thousands of fliers encouraging local residents to weigh in on a proposal to add vehicle shade structures outfitted with energy-generating solar panels to a dozen Irvine campuses.

Information has also been added to the IUSD homepage, which now links to a more robust webpage with details on the plan, renderings of each site and an online comment form. The idea is to generate as much community feedback as possible by the July 4 deadline. The board, meanwhile, is expected to vote on the matter six days later.

IUSD added solar tiles to the rooftops of 13 schools in 2010 and 2011, and vehicle shade structures topped with the photovoltaic panels were constructed at two district sites, including the District Office. The district paid no upfront capital costs for these projects and is now saving about $220,000 annually thanks to a mutually beneficial power-purchasing agreement with SunEdison.

proposed second phase of this initiative would place additional vehicle shade structures in the parking lots of up to a dozen IUSD campuses. In addition to the environmental and curricular benefits, Phase 2 would reduce energy spending by another $380,000 a year, with a projected 20-year savings of between $5 million and $11 million, officials said. Those dollars would be  unrestricted, meaning they could help offset further operational cuts during California’s fiscal crisis.

Acknowledging the potential upside, the Board of Education wants to make sure the structures are also a good fit with their local neighborhoods, and they’re hoping to gauge the community’s level of support before moving forward.

At its June 6 meeting, the board approved a comprehensive communications plan to get the word out and solicit feedback on the vehicle shade structures. Staff was directed to mail notices to residents within a quarter-mile radius of the sites being considered, as well as other homes that share a neighborhood with those in the quarter-mile zone. In addition, board members asked that more detailed information be posted online and sent out through the district’s Facebook and Twitter sites.

If you’d like to learn more about the plan, or if you wish to leave your comments, click here. All submissions received on or before July 4 will be reviewed by staff and presented to the board, which is expected to vote on the plan at its July 10 meeting.

Board Briefs: IUSD looks to get the word out and collect input on proposed solar canopies

The IUSD Board of Education on Tuesday approved an expanded communications plan to solicit feedback on a proposal to harness solar power at up to 12 additional Irvine campuses.

In the days and weeks ahead, the district will mail notices to residents and neighborhoods within a quarter-mile radius of the dozen sites being considered for parking canopies outfitted with solar panels, and more detailed information will be posted on the IUSD website, which already features an online input form. We’ll also continue to post updates here on the IUSD NewsFlash, as well as Facebook and Twitter.

You may recall that the proposal represents the second phase of an ambitious campaign to save money, promote sustainability and bolster IUSD’s energy curriculum by leveraging solar power districtwide.

The first phase, which added rooftop photovoltaic panels and parking lot canopies to 13 schools and two district sites in 2010 and 2011, is now producing $220,000 in annual savings through a power-purchasing agreement with SunEdison. In addition, Irvine students are able to track their school’s energy consumption in real time as part of a new curricular component.

Phase 2 now centers on 12 schools that were unable to accommodate rooftop solar panels. The board is specifically deciding whether to place vehicle shade structures outfitted with energy-producing solar tiles in the parking lots of Alderwood, Canyon View, Oak Creek, Stonegate and Woodbury elementary schools; Vista Verde School; Sierra Vista Middle School; Irvine, Northwood, University and Woodbridge high schools; and the new Jeffrey Trail Middle School. (To access renderings of the proposals, or to make suggestions via IUSD’s online input form, click here.)

The projected savings from Phase 2 is approximately $380,000 a year, with a 20-year savings of between $5 million and $11 million.

Though the second phase came up for a vote in May, board members took note of the limited public response and questioned whether more could have been done to generate feedback before asking staff to bring back a recommendation for new communication strategies.

Mark Sontag, IUSD’s administrative lead on the project, presented that recommendation on Tuesday, as well as a revised list of the schools under consideration. Among the suggested notification strategies was a proposal to send fliers to all addresses and homeowners’ associations within a quarter-mile radius of each school. Board members favored casting an even larger net, directing the district to include other homes that share a neighborhood with those in the quarter-mile zone. After a discussion that included comments from members of the public, the motion passed.

Sontag said the additional feedback will be collected and tallied over the next few weeks. Phase 2 of IUSD’s solar initiative is expected to be brought to the board for a vote on July 10.

Also on Tuesday, the board honored this year’s Classified Employees of the Year, recognized the 2011-12 student board members and capped a year’s worth of facilities work with the approval of a comprehensive Facilities Master Plan, which was crafted to guide building and modernization decisions over the next 10 to 20 years.

Board Briefs: Board continues solar proposal, ratifies agreement with potential furloughs

Calling for a greater effort to notify neighboring communities, the IUSD Board of Education continued a proposal to add canopies topped with solar panels to the parking lots of 11 Irvine schools.

The proposal under consideration Tuesday night represented the second phase of the district’s ambitious plan to leverage solar power districtwide. The first phase, which added rooftop panels to 13 schools and parking lot canopies to two district sites in 2010 and 2011, has produced $220,000 in annual savings through a unique power-purchasing agreement with SunEdison.

Phase 2 specifically focused on 11 campuses that were unable to accommodate rooftop solar panels. A staff recommendation sought to place vehicle shade structures, outfitted with energy-producing photovoltaic tiles, in the parking lots of Alderwood, Canyon View, Oak Creek, Stonegate and Woodbury elementary schools; Vista Verde School; Sierra Vista Middle School; and Irvine, Northwood, University and Woodbridge high schools. (To access renderings of the proposals, or to weigh in via an online input form, click here.)

IUSD sent out notices, posted renderings on its website and held three community meetings in April. Yet the board pointed to a limited public response in questioning whether more could have been done to notify the community and draw feedback. Board members, acknowledging the financial and environmental benefits of additional solar tiles, directed staff to develop a more comprehensive notification plan to present at the next board meeting on June 5.

Board ratifies agreement with possible furloughs

The board ratified a tentative agreement between the district and the Irvine Teachers Association that includes potential furlough days with corresponding salary reductions for 2012-13.

Eamonn O’Donovan, assistant superintendent of human resources, praised ITA for its efforts to help address ongoing fiscal challenges, saying the negotiated agreement allows for as many as seven furlough days if state lawmakers and the governor impose additional cuts on public education. Should they prove necessary, these days would save the district money by effectively shortening the next school year for employees and students.

Meanwhile, budget news at the state level has gone from bad to worse in recent days. With tax receipts coming in lower than anticipated and some earlier cuts blocked by the federal government, Governor Jerry Brown said California’s deficit has nearly doubled to approximately $16 billion.

More cuts are planned in Sacramento, and to generate additional revenue Brown is advocating on behalf of a ballot initiative that would temporarily raise taxes for high-income earners and increase the sales tax by a half-cent through 2016. If that initiative passes in November, the governor said, schools would be held harmless with flat funding. If voters reject the tax increases, public schools would be cut by about $5.5 billion. That would translate into a loss of approximately $11.5 million for Irvine, according to John Fogarty, IUSD’s assistant superintendent of business services.

IUSD has set aside some funds and implemented a freeze on all non-essential spending to help blunt the impact of any midyear reductions. Still, even with these strategies in place, the district anticipates a shortfall of more than $5 million for 2012-13, prompting the employee negotiations for furlough days.

“It’s a testament to the relationship that we have with ITA that we can come to this kind of agreement when there’s so much uncertainty,” O’Donovan said Tuesday.

Other language changes in the agreement relate to working conditions, evaluations, summer school compensation and shared contracts.

Employees praised for service as retirements near

Also Tuesday, the board recognized the certificated, classified and administrative employees who are set to retire on or before June 30.

In all, 71 IUSD workers are set to retire this year, collectively representing more than 1,800 years of service. O’Donovan introduced those who were able to personally attend the meeting and praised them for their contributions. Each was presented with a small gift as a token of the district’s gratitude.

The retirees in attendance included Anne Caenn, DeAnn DeBey, Linda DeBoer, Renee Dix, Kathy Fredriksen, Darlene Grierson, Cathy Hogan, Vernita Hollman, Jack Houston, Liz Krogsdale, Sandy McHolm, Virginia Meinen, Karen Reaves, Mark Reider, Randy Rossi, Ann Shaw, Joanne Srsic, Debbie Wright and Gail Williams.

IUSD Board of Education to consider the second phase of ambitious solar effort

It’s been more than a year since IUSD held an activation ceremony to mark the installation of solar panels at 13 schools and a pair of support facilities, and the data that’s been gathered over the last 12 months is beyond encouraging.

The sustainable solar technology that was affixed to rooftops and parking lot shade structures in 2010 and 2011 is now producing about 1.9 megawatts of clean energy, with the district saving about $220,000 annually.

And there’s an opportunity for even more savings and greater environmental benefits.

That’s because the initial batch of photovoltaic panels represented the first phase of a potentially larger project. Next week, the IUSD Board of Education will consider a series of new proposals for round two.

If approved by the board on May 15, the second phase would add vehicle shade structures – or canopies, as they’re sometimes called – outfitted with energy-producing solar panels to the parking lots of up to 11 sites throughout IUSD.

The schools under consideration are Alderwood, Canyon View, Oak Creek, Stonegate and Woodbury elementary schools; Vista Verde School, which is a K-8; Sierra Vista Middle School; and Irvine, Northwood, University and Woodbridge high schools. (To access renderings of the proposals, or to weigh in via an online input form, click here.)

Again, these are merely proposals at this point, and it will be up to the Board of Education to decide whether to move forward at any or all of the proposed sites. But the new panels could generate even more clean energy and provide millions of dollars’ worth of additional savings over the long term without IUSD paying any upfront capital costs, according to Mark Sontag, IUSD’s administrative lead on the project.

Sontag, who also serves as the district’s coordinator of math and science, said Phase 2 has the potential to generate approximately 4.5 megawatts. If the entire project was approved by the board, the combined total for phases 1 and 2 would be 6.4 megawatts, which would represent the second largest solar deployment for a public school district in California. The first-year savings for Phase 2 alone would be as high as $380,000, with the district projecting a 20-year savings of between $5 million and $11 million.

“Irvine and other school districts in California are facing significant fiscal challenges in light of the state budget crisis,” said Board of Education President Michael Parham, who spearheaded IUSD’s solar efforts along with Sontag. “This is an opportunity for us to capture added savings that would be unrestricted and available for educational priorities, and of course the environmental benefits are well documented.”

In fact, Phase 1 of the project produced enough energy to power 167 homes for a year and had the impact of removing 378 cars from the road. The first photovoltaic units have also been integrated into the district’s energy curriculum, allowing Irvine students to learn more about solar power while monitoring their own usage in real time.

Learning opportunities would increase with Phase 2. Other ancillary benefits would include downward-facing lights on the canopies, which could make campuses safer by illuminating school parking lots at night.

Meanwhile, other districts have followed IUSD’s lead in embracing solar technology through mutually beneficial power-purchasing agreements, as the Los Angeles Times recently reported.

Under the terms of IUSD’s original deal, which was approved by the board in 2009, SunEdison agreed to finance, operate and maintain the systems, enabling the company to take advantage of tax credits that public agencies can’t leverage. In exchange, IUSD agreed to purchase energy from SunEdison at a lower rate that was predictable long-term. Another company, SPG Solar, was brought in to build the units.

Along with its solar initiative, IUSD has in recent years reduced its electrical consumption, cut waste and added an 18-lesson curriculum on sustainable energy in grades five and six. For all of these efforts, representatives from the Sierra Club’s Orange County Committee on Climate Change announced the Irvine Unified School District as a recipient of its “Solar Energy and Good Practices Award” in 2011.

State health officials recognize IUSD for its attention to indoor air quality

The Irvine Unified School District has been named a recipient of the 2012 Achievements in Respiratory (AIR) Health Awards for indoor air quality by a division of the California Department of Public Health.

In an announcement sent out this week, the agency’s California Breathing program said it was “very impressed” with the district’s efforts to improve indoor air quality and create asthma-safe environments for students and staff. IUSD was one of three districts to secure the honor, joining Oak Park Unified and Fresno Unified.

“This award serves to validate the work of our maintenance, custodial, grounds, construction and facilities teams, which constantly strive to exceed the highest standards of environmental health,” said Joe Hoffman, IUSD’s director of Maintenance and Operations. “We have always recognized that the physical environment is a critical component of learning, and recent research has underscored the connection between air quality, absenteeism and academic performance. From our perspective, nothing is more important than ensuring our students study and play in spaces that are clean, safe and conducive to learning.”

IUSD was specifically lauded for developing a “comprehensive and well-conceived approach” to maintenance and operations with policies and practices that draw from many of the best available environmental health resources. Scott Kessler, programs manager for California Breathing, also noted in a follow-up email that the district was “committed to the most rigorous and up-to-date standards for construction and maintenance of school facilities,” including those established by the Collaborative for High Performance Schools, Leadership in Environmental Energy and Design and the U.S. Green Building Council.

Along with a trophy, which is scheduled to be presented at a Board of Education meeting in June, IUSD will receive $5,000 to continue its indoor air quality improvement efforts.

California Breathing is a program charged with implementing strategies tied to the California Department of Public Health’s Strategic Plan for Asthma in California. For more information, click here.