Engineers working with the Douglas County School District didn’t do their homework when they agreed to add solar power to 30 of the district’s schools, some Acres Green residents say. Now they say the district is trying to foist the error on the neighborhood’s back – a burden Acres Green would shoulder for 25 years.
“We are here because of a mistake,” Acres Green resident Ron Brink told school board members during their May 3 meeting. “This proposal has been botched from the beginning.”
Neighbors packed the board’s Castle Rock chambers, with more than a dozen speaking against plans to build a 100-x-260-foot, 456-panel solar installation at the corner of Maximus and Acres Green drives.
An August 2010 agreement between the Douglas County School District and Regeneration Finance calls for building the solar panels at 30 elementary, middle and high schools, as well as Shea Stadium in Highlands Ranch. Plans showed the panels erected on school roofs and a carport-like structure at Shea Stadium.
Power generated by the panels will save the district an estimated $5.5 million by the end of the 25-year agreement. The panels at Acres Green Elementary will pay a-third of the school’s energy bills, district officials estimate.
The idea of putting the panels on top of the Acres Green school crumbled when engineers determined the 36-year-old roof couldn’t handle the load.
Instead, they proposed a ground-level structure in the middle-class neighborhood west of Park Meadows Mall. The proposal will be reviewed by the Douglas County Planning Commission during its Monday meeting.
“I am absolutely convinced none of you would allow this to happen in your community,” Acres Green resident Pat Perlinger said to the board members. “There is no question the project will be an eyesore and devalue our homes.”
Several neighbors also said notice about the project came late, giving them little time to offer input.
“Because we’re a smaller community, I believe our opinions were overlooked,” one resident said. “If you can’t exclude us from the project, take some of the projected savings and upgrade the roof.”
District spokesman Randy Barber said aborting plans for Acres Green’s solar project wouldn’t be easy.
“It would be great if we could just send it to another location,” Barber said. But the Acres Green site is specified in the approved contract, he said.
If planning commission denies the ground-level panels, “It won’t botch the entire project, but it certainly will make it more expensive,” Barber said. “It really causes a number of hiccups that are going to be very difficult to overcome.”
Upgrading the roof is cost-prohibitive, he said.
Neighbors said their concerns extend beyond aesthetics to safety. Curious children may climb the planned six-foot fence and suffer injury or electrocution. At ground level, it’s also a lure for mischief-makers.
“The inherent vandalism that will ensue is a promise,” Marva Bigler said.
Attorney and Acres Green resident Jim Stern suggested legal action could be taken based on the devaluation of property values, particularly for homeowners on Virgo Drive whose back yards give them a birds-eye view of the school.
“I know the homeowners on Virgo Drive would be well within their rights to sue to stop this thing as an inverse condemnation action,” Stern said. “They could put the brakes on this thing for a long time.”
Because of the neighbors’ comments, Barber said the school district has added landscaping and tweaked the fence design around the planned site to improve its appearance.
“Obviously, we care about their concerns,” he said. “We really think landscaping will improve the project so it’s less noticeable. This is an important project we’re taking on. The school (district) is in the middle of a budget deficit. We want to be sure we’re looking at ways to save money for the district. That’s really the key element — the ability to save taxpayer money.”
The planning commission’s public hearing on the Acres Green solar panels was at 7 p.m. May 16 in the commissioners’ hearing room at 100 Third Street in Castle Rock. Go online to www.lonetree247.com for an update.