District 202 holds town hall, discusses solar and artificial turf

The District 202 School Board held a town hall meeting this week with members of the community to gauge interest in a couple of large-scale projects, including installing solar panels and artificial turf on the football field.

A plan to install solar arrays has been in the works since the spring and board members have indicated that instead of going to a power purchase agreement, which would cost the district nothing except a reduced utility bill, the district would pay for the installation of the solar panels and own them outright, resulting in no utility cost for solar energy generated and used.

In a presentation to the attendees, Superintendent Steve Wilder said that the district is currently drafting a request for proposals to identify an engineering firm to design the solar array that will best fit the district’s needs — not only now but for the future.

After the design is complete, the district will apply for energy credits to offset the cost. This can abate around a third of the costs over five years. Construction would take place as soon as the energy credits are approved, as soon as next summer.

The savings from the reduction in the utility bill could then be funneled into the installation of artificial turf on the football field.

Wilder said that the approximate cost of the artificial turf was $1.1M and could be constructed on the existing football field without damaging the track.

He said the estimated life span of artificial turf is 10-15 years and the cost to replace it would be $400,000-$500,000.

Artificial turf’s durability allows it to be used year-round by multiple groups. Additionally, because of the extensive drainage, it could be used immediately after heavy rainfall. This was an issue this year when heavy rain forced the Blue Bullet’s football game on Friday, September 27, to be played the next day at F&M Bank Stadium on the Galesburg High School’s grounds.

Wilder said that existing reserves will not cover the costs for either project, and it’s estimated to cost between 3-5 million dollars. The cost of borrowing funds for both projects would increase the tax rate by $0.25 to $0.65 for approximately ten years. Historically, the tax rate has been between $4.55 and $4.65.

Wilder said that the next step for the solar panels would be to get direction from the citizens and taxpayers by putting a non-binding yes-or-no question on the ballot in the 2020 primaries.

The floor was opened up after the presentation for questioning. Questions touched on both subjects and others.

It was asked what the life expectancy of the solar panels were. Wilder said 15-20 years, and even then the panels would still function but not generate as much electricity.

Another question regarding what would happen with the money saved from the utility payment reduction. Wilder said that the utility bill is paid out of the education and building funds and could be used for other things that need taken care of in the district.