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Mar 6, 2012 12:53 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Westhampton Beach Schools Go Green Once Again

Mar 7, 2012 12:41 PM

Being green just got easier for the Westhampton Beach School District, thanks to a hefty state grant and a lot of initiative.

At a ribbon-cutting ceremony held in the high school gymnasium on Friday, district officials celebrated the completion of their latest alternative energy project: the installation of two solar panel arrays that, combined, are capable of generating up to 50 kilowatts of power for the district’s middle and high schools.

The photovoltaic array systems, now fully operational, were installed over four months last summer and fall on the roofs of the middle and high schools. The initiative was fully funded by a $392,500 Energy Efficiency Improvement 
Grant issued by the New 
York State Energy Research 
and Development Authority. The district secured the 
money in spring 2010.

School officials estimate that the two 25-kilowatt systems will generate 62,000 kilowatt-hours of energy annually, though they could not immediately estimate how that will translate into dollars.

“We are tracking the energy being produced by the panels and our monthly electric bills to analyze the impact of the solar panels,” said Westhampton Beach Schools Superintendent Michael Radday.

Chris Herr, the principal of the high school, explained that this initiative reflects the district’s long-standing interest in going green. Back in 2009, members of the high school environmental club, Classmates United in Restoring the Environment, or CURE, raised $3,000 to finance the installation of 24 solar panels on the roof of the high school gymnasium. Those panels are now providing the school with 5 kilowatts of electricity.

“The district took it to the next level,” Mr. Herr said of the latest solar power undertaking.

School officials said the energy generated by the new solar panels will reduce the district’s carbon footprint and offset its energy costs for years to come. The project also includes an advanced monitoring system which, the school superintendent said, makes it an excellent teaching tool.

“It helps out students as we engage them in energy education and help them to be good stewards of the environment,” Mr. Radday said at last week’s ceremony.

The superintendent also noted that plans for the project were put in motion by current Board of Education President Jim Hulme, former board leader Aram Terchunian and former Superintendent Lynn Schwartz, who recently retired. Mr. Radday said those three “led a transformation of the school district.” All attended Friday’s ceremony.

He explained that, in the winter of 2010, Mr. Terchunian learned about the state grant and brought it to the attention of Mr. Hulme and Mr. Schwartz. Working together, they gathered the necessary paperwork and completed the grant application three days before the deadline.

In addition, the school officials enlisted the help of the Westhampton Beach Village Board. Mr. Radday explained that a local municipal body had to be the lead agency to apply for the state money. In fact, the Village Board held a special meeting to pass a resolution supporting the grant proposal.

“I can’t say enough about how responsive the Village Board, the mayor and the village staff were in helping us work through this process,” Mr. Radday said.

Olivia Percoco, the president of CURE, explained how students came together in 2008 to form the club that would explore green alternatives. Their inaugural fundraiser helped raise money for the high school’s first solar panel project. On Friday, she noted how the latest project takes students’ ideas to greater heights.

“We are [now] able to say that we generate 100 kilowatts of clean solar energy a day to help power our school and it doesn’t have to stop there,” Olivia said.

She added that students are now organizing another fundraiser that seeks to build upon the solar panel initiative and perhaps will even explore other alternative energy initiatives, such as wind turbines. Olivia said students also hope to secure a 
grant that pushes for the integration of solar energy with education.

Neos Associates Inc. in Flushing, Queens, installed the newest solar energy system, using components made in the United States. Ken Schupner from BBS Architects and Engineers, P.C. in Patchogue served as the project architect.

Westhampton Beach Student Council Co-President Alix Suter, who will be attending George Washington University in the fall, spoke eloquently about the latest initiative.

“We are witnessing Westhampton as a forerunner in new technology, but this time in green design and sustainability,” she said.

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