State Center Community College District is getting ready to install solar panels that will double as covered parking on five campuses this summer.
The installation could save about $18 million in energy costs districtwide over the next 20 years. But it also means death to a bunch of trees – at least 88 alone in the Fresno City College parking lots along McKinley Avenue.
Fresno City faculty member Jeannine Koshear isn’t happy about the trees being cut down, including one that she claims is a century old and used in class lessons. She’s also upset with the district for not getting more community input before voting to move ahead with the project.
“Here we are, in the Valley, with horrible air quality, and we’re going to cut down trees to install solar?” Koshear said.
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“This would change the face of campus forever.”
This would change the face of campus forever.
Jeannine Koshear, Fresno City faculty member
Discussions about a districtwide solar project started last August. A presentation was made to the board of trustees in February and the board voted in March, in a close 4-3 decision, to move ahead with the installation. There were a lot of meetings leading up to the vote, and the district posted a formal 15-day notice before the March meeting, said Christine Miktarian, associate vice chancellor of business and operations.
The district entered a lease agreement with ForeFront, a solar company recommended by the School Project for Utility Rate Reduction, or SPURR program, a joint powers authority created in 1989 by California public school districts. SPURR helps streamline the solar competitive bidding process for public entities.
The plan is to install solar shade structures and some electric car-charging stations at Clovis Community College, the district’s Herndon Avenue campus in Clovis, Fresno City, Madera Community College Center and Reedley College.
Fresno City was the biggest challenge because it has a lot of trees, a shortage of land and a plan that outlines possible future development at the college, Miktarian said. The district did not want to take away any parking areas or build on land that could be slated for a new building, she said.
The solar structures would be built over the existing parking lots along McKinley Avenue. The lot closest to the railroad tracks was spared because it could be home to a new parking structure in the future.
“We’re not putting (solar) on the buildings,” Miktarian said. “That would be an added structural issue for the buildings themselves.”
88Trees to be removed at Fresno City College
The trees in the parking lots are in the way so they have to go, the district said. None of the college’s “heritage” trees – the old, mature trees that are part of a campus tree walk program – will be removed, Miktarian said.
Once construction is finished by the end of the year, the district plans to plant 100 large native shade trees on the Fresno City campus and another 300 between the Madera and Reedley college sites, Miktarian said. The district is working with Tree Fresno on applying for a grant.
Construction is scheduled to begin in late summer and will run into the start of the new school year.
Koshear, who said she supports solar and other efforts to reduce energy costs, is still not convinced solar panels on the parking lots is the way to go.
“It seems to me like there’s a model that is much more … collaborative and doesn’t involve the destruction of trees.”