Harrisonburg’s school district prepares for first step in Bluestone Elementary solar project

The solar project planned for Bluestone Elementary will include an educational component.

By Eric Gorton, contributor

Contractors interested in designing, building and maintaining a solar array on the roof of Bluestone Elementary School have one more week to submit their qualifications to Harrisonburg City Schools.

The project, to be funded by a grant from the Harrisonburg Electric Commission, was first discussed in fall 2019 before being put on hold by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The school system posted on its website a request for qualifications on May 19 and set a deadline of 4 p.m. June 14.

In addition to designing, building and maintaining the system, the contractor will be responsible for helping educate students in grades K-12 about solar energy by building a photovoltaic display on the ground and a dashboard inside the building to provide information about the performance of the solar panels.

Craig Mackail, the school district’s chief operating officer, said the school board “has been very forward thinking when it comes to energy conservation and alternative energy sources that are environmentally responsible.”

School officials hope the rooftop array will generate enough electricity to power the school without having to purchase electricity from HEC.

“The school board made it very clear during the design process that being energy efficient and environmentally friendly was a priority at (Bluestone) and the Elon Rhodes Early Learning Center,” Mackail said.

Bluestone Elementary, which opened in fall 2017, was designed to accommodate solar panels on its roof.

The Elon Rhodes Center has achieved LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, the second highest rating possible, and the school system is hoping to earn the same designation for Bluestone Elementary. Projects pursuing LEED certification earn points for various green building strategies across several categories, according to the USGBC website.

Bluestone Elementary’s eco-friendly design was among factors that earned its architects from the Charlottesville-based firm VMDO three design awards in 2018, including one from the Virginia School Boards Association. 

After the solar energy request for qualifications deadline passes, the school system will assemble an evaluation committee to review the submissions. 

The school board could then choose a contractor based on that review or seek a request for proposals from multiple contractors around June 28.

Brian O’Dell, general manager of HEC, said in a February email to The Citizen that the Renewable Energy Demonstration Grant that will fund the project would likely be several hundred thousand dollars. 

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