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Schools now solar-powered

Flip of switch means up to 65% less power from PG&E

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Schools now solar-powered

Manteca Unified Coordinator of Sustainability and Energy Education Veronica Brunn, center, welcomes guests to the new Regional Environmental Studies Center.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

POSTED September 27, 2013 1:15 a.m.

It was one simple flip of a switch, but it marked a giant leap in solar technology for Manteca Unified School District.

And with that millisecond action Thursday at Golden West School by Board of Education president Dan Scholl and Principal Sherie Gates, the district’s $30 million solar-energy system officially went online. That took place earlier in the day, with the videotaped ceremonial scene shown to the guests during the ceremony.

 Once in full swing, the installed solar panels at all 26 elementary and high school sites in Manteca Unified will collectively produce enough energy that will reduce the district’s utility bill by up to 65 percent.

That was not the only excitement highlighting the evening of historical significance for the district. The brand-new Regional Environmental Studies Center built by Manteca-based American Modular Systems which will be utilized as an educational facility was also officially opened marked by a ribbon cutting ceremony officiated by school district and other prominent local officials.

The scores of guests were then treated to a sampling of gastronomical treats prepared and served by students in the Manteca Unified Vocational Academy’s Culinary Arts program who stood out in the crowd in their white chef’s uniforms and hats. Their participation in the event marked the other highlight of the evening – the public debut of the MUVA Café. That means the student-run dining destination is now open to the general public as well, not just to school district employees.

The Regional Environmental Studies Center, the first zero-energy building in San Joaquin County, will be utilized for classes, symposia on sustainable-living topics, and by the students of the district’s vocational charter school, said Superintendent Jason Messer.

“We will really make this a learning center,” he said.

The zero net energy building, whose construction incorporated the use of 150-year-old reclaimed barn wood and equipped with solar panels, will be constantly updated as well to keep it on the cutting edge of technology, Messer said.

The building also features rain-collection systems, displays on various environmental-friendly and recycling practices, as well as a digital kiosk where the energy output from the school sites’ solar-panel installations are being monitored and viewed via a touch screen. The plan is to make this learning center also available to community education programs that teach the public about green building techniques and technologies, sustainable home improvement, gardening, energy and water conservation, air quality and innovation, which are all reflected in the building’s design and performance.

“We’ve been in the 21st century for 13 years, yet what we have not had are facilities that meet the need of modern technology,” noted Messer during the presentation program that took place inside the learning center which featured Eric Corey Freed, author of “Green Building for Dummies” as the guest speaker.

Messer said that the district hopes to someday have “this type of building” at every school campus in the district, referring to the state-of-the-art prefabricated environmental studies center.

So far, only three of the school sites have the solar panels installed – Golden West, Shasta and Lathrop elementary schools. The rest of the sites will come online later this year, said Victoria Brunn, coordinator of MUSD’s Sustainability and Energy Education.

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