Solar panels may make school's roofs worse


Workers plan before going up on the roof on Kanapaha Middle School on Tuesday, Feb.12, 2013 in Gainesville, Fla.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Monday, February 18, 2013 at 11:08 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, February 18, 2013 at 11:08 p.m.

Kanapaha Middle School's roofs are near the end of their lives.

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Workers plan before going up on the roof on Kanapaha Middle School on Tuesday, Feb.12, 2013 in Gainesville, Fla.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer

Having seen the brittle shingles atop the 17-year-old school's buildings, officials are saying they would replace each roof if they had the money, and they plan to do so once they do have the money.

But despite the age of the roofs, officials still decided to include some of Kanapaha's rooftops among those available for lease to investors as part of the Gainesville Regional Utilities' solar feed-in tariff program.

Gainesville contractor Solar Impact installed a system of solar panels in fall 2011 on the roof of Building 6, directly over the cafeteria, in the first phase. During Phase Two in spring 2012, more panels went up on Building 6, over the band and chorus room, and another system on the roof of Building 9.

According to records kept by district officials, after the second round of panels went up, a rainstorm on May 29 caused leaks in classrooms of Building 9 that resulted in minor damage to ceiling tiles. The panels were removed on July 23 and the building was tarped while plans for roof replacement were made.

Those plans came to fruition as the School Board approved a $208,620 contract with a Lakeland-based contractor to partially replace the roofs on buildings 6 and 9 — a project that is nearing completion.

Keith Birkett, assistant superintendent, said district staff determined the roof could last longer and decided to move forward with the solar project.

He said in retrospect, work on the roof to install the solar system could have made matters worse.

Offering up Kanapaha, he said, may have been a mistake.

“Walking on the roof at the end of its life expectancy could compromise the roof,” he said. “We probably should not have put Kanapaha in the running.”

Barry Jacobson, president of Solar Impact, echoed Birkett.

“(Installing solar panels) doesn't help,” he said. “It can make it worse.”

He added that because of GRU deadlines that put the project at risk of being shelved, waiting for roof repairs before the panels went “wasn't really an option.”

Work on the roof replacement began in mid-November and hit an unexpected snag when Building 9's roof leaked after a storm on Dec. 10.

According to district documentation, workers responded late that night to get six of the eight classrooms in that building ready for the following morning.

Overnight, rain flooded all eight classrooms. The contractor, R.F. Lusa and Sons Sheetmetal Inc., put up tarps to prevent more flooding. The following day, the contractor, district staff and district roofing consultants determined that the material that goes beneath the shingles was not waterproof.

It was later found after laboratory testing that the material was faulty, leaving the contractor liable for the expenses incurred as a result of the December leak — expenses that totaled almost $48,000 and included replacing carpets with tile in classrooms, heat detectors and damaged materials.

Kanapaha Principal Jennifer Wise said that some classes were displaced for a few days, but workers moved quickly to fix the situation.

Contact Joey Flechas at 338-3166 or joey.flechas@gvillesun.com.

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