IUSD adds more solar panels, forecasts up to $8 million in long-term savings


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IUSD has reached another milestone in its ongoing drive to offset energy costs with solar power.

Last week, it was announced that solar installations at three schools have been completed, capping the second phase of the ambitious district-wide initiative.

Vehicle shade structures topped with solar tiles are now producing electricity at Stonegate and Woodbury elementary schools, as well as University High School. With these new structures online, IUSD now powers 22 sites with the help of photovoltaic systems, and the district is expecting to avoid $5 million to $8 million in utility costs over the next 20 years.

“We accomplished this with zero up-front costs and zero maintenance costs through a power-purchase agreement with SunEdison,” says Mark Sontag, IUSD’s director of math, science and career technical education. “That extra budget means more resources for our teachers and students.”

NorthwoodHS-039 (1)Since 2010, IUSD has authorized the installation of solar panels on the rooftops of more than a dozen schools — that’s Irvine High School pictured above — and vehicle shade structures capable of harnessing the sun’s rays have been constructed in the parking lots of 11 sites, including the District Office and the Maintenance and Operations center. (Shade structures at Northwood High are shown to the right.)

The systems were all built by SunEdison, which agreed to sell power back to IUSD at a rate that is both predictable and consistently below what the local utility charges. In exchange, SunEdison qualifies for tax incentives that public agencies can’t access.

IUSD’s solar panels generate about 25 percent to 60 percent of each campus’ electrical consumption, but Sontag notes that the benefits go way beyond savings. The installations also serve as the basis for standards-based instruction, allowing students to learn about photovoltaic technology on their own campuses as they track energy production and consumption in real time.

“The Irvine Unified School District is a wonderful success story and a role model for other school districts,” said Sam Youneszadeh, managing director of west coast distributed generation at SunEdison. “They’re inspiring to us, and we hope many more schools are able to follow their lead and invest more on education by reducing their energy bill.”

A third phase of IUSD’s solar initiative would add panels at Cypress Village and Portola Springs elementary schools in 2015.


Portola High groundbreaking celebrated as a testament to collaboration, perseverance


In less than two years, a state-of-the-art high school is expected to occupy this vast stretch of undeveloped land south of Irvine Boulevard. There will be classrooms, a 720-seat theater, a gymnasium, a building to house elective courses, and the kind of student center you might find on a college campus.

But IUSD school board President Sharon Wallin sees more than the promise of new facilities. She sees memories waiting to be made.

“I see pep rallies, homecoming dances, basketball games,” said Wallin, flanked by blue and white balloons. “I see band performances, spring musicals and campus clubs. I see the first encounters between students, and the lifelong friendships being made. That to me is what this project is all about.”

Portola High groundbreaking 3Joined by local dignitaries and community members, IUSD ceremoniously broke ground on Portola High School Thursday afternoon, marking the start of construction on the district’s fifth comprehensive high school after years of diligent planning, collaborative negotiations and rigorous environmental reviews. The event was held just three weeks after a groundbreaking celebration for the similarly named Portola Springs Elementary School.

“You know, they say that the best things in life don’t come easy,” Superintendent Terry Walker said during his introductory remarks. “So if that is true, then I have no doubt that this high school is going to be the greatest high school in the world.”

Along with Wallin and Walker, ceremony speakers included state Assemblyman Don Wagner, Irvine Company Senior Vice President Mike LeBlanc, FivePoint Communities Executive Vice President Lynn Jochim, Irvine Mayor Pro Tem Jeff Lalloway and representatives from the offices of Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer and state Senator Mimi Walters.

Portola High groundbreakingFEATUREDIUSD Board of Education members Paul Bokota, Lauren Brooks, Ira Glasky and Michael Parham were also on hand, as was former trustee Dr. Gavin Huntley-Fenner. And the Northwood High School band, led by music teachers Ben Case and Whitney Tavlarides, cheerfully loaned school spirit to the ceremony with a setlist of contemporary songs, including Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” and “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey. Both were fitting.

Naturally, there were photos to commemorate the occasion, featuring board members, staff and others breaking ground with shiny silver shovels near what will become home plate on Portola High’s future baseball diamond. (“So all kinds of references to hitting home runs would be very relevant to today’s events,” noted Walker.) But first it was time to acknowledge the moment’s significance — and to recognize those responsible for getting Portola High to this point.

“The story of this school, like most of the great stories, is one about people,” Walker said, “and in this case their selfless dedication to serving our students and this community.”

“The people responsible for making this school a reality … embody the same characteristics we aspire to cultivate in our students — courage and resilience and perseverance and grit, as well as thoughtful planning,” the superintendent said.

Portola High groundbreaking 2Indeed, planning had been long underway before IUSD and its developer partners reached agreement on the school’s location in 2011, kicking off an exhaustive evaluation and testing process that culminated with approvals from the California Department of Education and the state Department of Toxic Substances Control. In May, the Board of Education passed a resolution formally selecting the more-than-40-acre site along Irvine Boulevard and west of Alton Parkway, and the school was given a name nine days before Thursday’s ceremony. Portola High School, designed by HMC Architects, is now set to open in August 2016 with an inaugural class of freshman students.

“Here’s an understatement for you: This is a big day for our school district,” board President Wallin said, drawing an enthusiastic round of applause.

“Though our groundbreaking ceremonies traditionally mark the beginning of construction, our district’s vision is long-term,” she said. “Our commitment extends to many generations who will go on to shape this campus and establish its own identity, ensuring that Portola High is indeed synonymous with all that’s great in Irvine.”

Photos by IUSD Webmaster Shane Cline


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.