Donation offered for solar panels at schools’ central office

  • Posted: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 12:44 a.m.

SALISBURY — Another local philanthropist has offered to contribute money to the Rowan-Salisbury School System central office - as long as it’s in downtown Salisbury.

In a Sunday email to architect Bill Burgin, Fred Stanback said he wants to donate $150,000 toward installing solar panels on the roof of the building. This would allow the office to generate some or all of its own electricity.


“(This) amount may not cover the full upfront cost, but it seems a shame to build a building which will be used for 50 to 100 years and not have it done with the latest technology,” Stanback wrote. “The original cost may be higher, but that will be recovered many times over during the life of the building.”

The Blanche and Julian Robertson Family Foundation previously pledged $250,000 toward furniture at the central office building, on the condition that it be built downtown.

In an interview Tuesday, Stanback said he has been interested in solar power for a long time, because it “just makes sense.”

“It’s very likely utility costs will be going up over the years. If they get solar panels, it will lock in the cost,” he said. “The sun is not going to raise its prices.”

Stanback said using solar energy is an alternative to paying for oil from overseas or coal from another state.

“Also, it would be a symbol for the whole school system of modern technology that could and should be used today,” Stanback said. He said he thinks it’s important that the office be in a central location, and the city of Salisbury has given a lot to the project already.

The school system has proposed building the consolidated office building in the 300 block of South Main Street.

Rowan County commissioners declined to borrow $6 million on behalf of the school system to build the central office at the downtown site, citing soil contamination there. Salisbury has since agreed to consider borrowing $8 million on the school system’s behalf for the project.

Assistant Superintendent Gene Miller said he thinks installing solar panels is a great idea.

“It’s a very generous offer,” Miller said. “If we had the additional money, we would do it ourselves. It’s nice that he’s willing to step up and help us.”

He said he’s not sure how many solar panels the system could buy with $150,000, if it can’t find funding elsewhere.

“But if you don’t have enough to power a whole building, it’s still more than enough to power the hot water we would use or some of the electricity we would use,” Miller said.

He said no formal planning has been done yet, because “we’ve got to have a building first.”

“How many solar panels can you buy with the dollars available? In the ideal world, you’d fill the whole roof up with panels,” Burgin said. “It’s safe to say that’s probably a $400,000 order.”

He said the school system would likely make up that cost over about 8 to 12 years, but these numbers are all rough estimates.

The system could choose to seek public grants or use some of its own funds to supplement Stanback’s donation, Burgin said. It also could just install $150,000 worth of solar panels.

“At least as of now, we do have to deal with limited dollars,” he said. “We have a fixed budget, and we want to make sure we stay within that number.”

Burgin said the roof structure would have to change slightly to accommodate the panels, but it wouldn’t affect the base building.

The school system will need to rebid the plans for the office anyway, Miller said, because the latest bids from two or three months ago are no longer valid.

Miller said the city of Salisbury is waiting on test results to make sure that its cleanup of the downtown site was successful.

In addition to removing and replacing soil, the city also had to dig out seven underground fuel tanks that remained from the property’s history as a gas station.

Once the property receives a clean bill of health from the state, Burgin said the school board’s next step is to ask commissioners for direction. If they still won’t help finance the project, the board will then turn to the city.

Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.

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