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Almost 100 solar advocates of all ages holding signs in support of keeping solar panels in the design of the new Belmont Middle and High School Building (BMHSB) gathered at the entrance to the Homer Municipal Building early Thursday morning. The BMHSB Committee had a meeting to decide what to cut to get the $295 million project back on budget. It was estimated to be $19 million over the budget approved by the Massachusetts School Building Authority.
After hearing comments from the solar advocates, including Belmont High School senior Madeleine Kitch, who collected more than 200 signatures from fellow BHS students in just two days in support of keeping the solar panels, the $3 million item for solar panels was not cut.
Chairman Bill Lovallo opened the meeting explaining the committee's core mission and said, "I don't think we are going to eliminate pv [solar panels] today."
Committee member Bob McLaughlin, however, said he doesn't want to watch the building "die a death by 1,000 cuts," reiterating his concern about building a first class, durable, quality building that will last 50 years.
"If solar panels aren't on the building when it opens, at the next Town Meeting, it will be," said McLaughlin, adding the number of people who showed up at the meeting show the constituency for solar and the power to get support for additional funding at Town Meeting.
However, committee member Ellen Schreiber disagreed with McLaughlin, saying it would be a mistake to take it to Town Meeting.
"We have asked the town for $295 million and promised it wouldn't be more than $295 million and taking a request for solar panels to Town Meeting is increasing a budget. I think we have a pact that we made with the voters and I think that the next time we ask for something, people won't believe us," she said. "We made a promise."
Items on the chopping block
The BMHSB Committee voted on several items to get the project back on budget including reducing the size of skylights, eliminating all outside benches, eliminating trees, reducing the amount of porcelain tile on walls and floors, changing the material on operable walls, reducing teacher cabinets, reducing the amount of cat walks, and changing wood panel material.
This is the second time the Building Committee has had to make cuts.
Back in April, the project was estimated to be $30 million over budget. One of the items on the list to potentially be cut was the rooftop solar arrays estimated to cost $3 million. A standing room-only crowd attended the April 22 meeting to show support for the net-zero goals and on May 3, the committee decided to keep the solar panels.