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Crews have been busy installing solar structures on Gustine Unified School District campuses this summer.

GUSTINE - This summer is one of significant change on campuses in the Gustine Unified School District.

Solar panels, estimated to produce millions of dollars of energy savings over the years ahead, are being installed at Gustine Elementary, Romero, Gustine High and Gustine Middle School, lending a new look - not to mention welcome shade and weather protection - to the campuses.

And at Gustine Middle School, the long-awaited gymnasium is taking shape and is on track for completion before the end of the first semester.

“These are huge steps forward for our district,” said Dr. Bryan Ballenger, superintendent.

Russell Hazan, the district’s director of maintenance, recently told Mattos Newspapers that a small army of construction workers have been on the job to install solar.

Ballenger said the solar panels should be installed by the start of the school year but most likely not yet activated.

The district entered into a long-term power purchase agreement with solar firm ENGIE, which will install, operate and

maintain the arrays.

“We will buy power from them. They are anticipating a savings of over $9 million over the 25-year life of the system. Our rate is locked in and fixed over the life of the system,” Ballenger commented. “With PG&E filing for bankruptcy, we are only going to be in a better place (with solar). This is a huge commitment and undertaking, but we think it is well worth it.”

With the exception of one ground mount array at Romero, the solar panels will mounted atop elevated structures which shade parking lots or areas where students congregate.

“I think they are going to look really nice and complement our campus,” Ballenger stated.

The solar project reflects the district’s commitment to using its resources as efficiently as possible, he added.

Where solar was once a rarity on campuses, Ballenger pointed out, the structures have become commonplace.

“This is the norm and the standard,” he said. “I think it is what people expect today.”

Middle school gym

At the middle school, construction is continuing on the multi-use/gym building.

Ballenger said the facility is due for completion by early December - although he is hopeful that crews can make up for rain-related delays early in the process and finish the building in November.

The benefits of having a gym on campus cannot be overstated, he emphasized.

“This has been a very long time coming. Students and staff have had to suffer, doing physical education entirely outside, not having enough room in the cafeteria on rainy days and not having a space for a school assembly,” Ballenger reflected.

A middle school is not truly complete without a gym, he added.

“A lot of the things that bring school culture together happen in a gym, whether it is rallies or games or other events,” Ballenger noted. “This should go a long way to improving school culture.”