Big changes for high school parking lots

New drainage below and solar above.

Gilroy High School seniors who decorate their parking stalls with elaborately cool art work will soon have a new canvas for their teenage self-expression.

The school’s sprawling parking lot off Princevalle Street and adjoining the football stadium is right now undergoing a complete facelift that school officials say is worth about $1 million but will end up costing the district not a dime.

That’s because the parking lot—and its counterpart at Christopher High School across town in north Gilroy — will be resurrected next month as state of the art, solar power generating plants.

Work at GHS is quite a sight for anyone familiar with the old parking lot—it’s gone, replaced for the time being by heaps of rubble and a bustle of equipment and construction workers.

It’s the district’s inaugural foray into solar power generating and it’s estimated the installation of the solar arrays at the schools will save millions of dollars in electric bills in the decades to come.

The parking lot at the Gilroy Unified School District’s Christopher High School, which is less than 10 years old, is not being repaved, only the GHS lot will is being torn up and replaced as part of the project.

James Bombaci, GUSD’s facilities manager is overseeing the project.

He said this week that everything is on schedule for completion by the time the 2017-18 school year starts on Aug. 17, and that the scheduled might even be “tightened a bit.”

That the GHS re-paving project was necessary is no secret. Originally scheduled to be done last summer, the bankruptcy of one of the solar power companies involved in the project delayed its start by a year.

“The parking lot was in 100 percent failure,” Bombaci said. The pavement of the pothole flecked lot was also experiencing extreme “alligatoring,” according to Bombaci, a situation where the asphalt develops a deeply rippled surface.

Granite Construction Company is the contractor for the paving work at GHS and Borrego Solar will erect and install the solar arrays that will splay out over the two high school lots.

The adjoining tennis and basketball courts at GHS will not be impacted by the project and the parking lot will be the same size when the work is completed.

However, because space is taken up by the solar installation, the lot will lose several parking stalls, according to Bombaci.

One of the improvements that will come with the project involves the single entrance and exit on Princevalle Street.

The new lot will boast two exit lanes, one that will be left-hand only and the other right-hand-only, and two entrance lanes, Bombaci said.

The paving at GHS and the two high school solar installations will be done at no cost to GUSD, under a solar power-funding plan called a PPA, or Power Purchase Agreement, Assistant Superintendent Alvaro Meza said this week.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, or SEIA, a PPA “is a financial agreement where a developer arranges for the design, permitting, financing and installation of a solar energy system on a customer’s property at little to no cost.”

It works like this, according to SEIA: “The developer sells the power generated to the host customer at a fixed rate that is typically lower than the local utility’s retail rate. This lower electricity price serves to offset the customer’s purchase of electricity from the grid while the developer receives the income from these sales of electricity as well as any tax credits and other incentives generated from the system.”

As is true with most PPAs, Gilroy’s will go on for decades, during which time the developer, Borrego Solar, is responsible for running and maintaining the system, according to district officials.

“At the end of the PPA contract term, a customer may be able to extend the PPA, have the developer remove the system or choose to buy the solar energy system from the developer,” according to SEIA.

The installation of solar arrays over the parking lots will result in a lot more than just savings on energy bills, according to school officials.

The installations will provide more shelter, lighting and security for students, staff and anyone visiting the schools, they say.

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