Recently students at the Stella Maris Regional School in Sag Harbor began drafting letters to village officials reasoning why solar panels should be allowed at the Catholic school, located in the heart of the village’s historic district. After this week, Stella Maris Principal Janie said they will likely become thank you letters.
After three years of planning, and struggle to gain village approval, the Sag Harbor Historic Preservation and Architectural Review Board (ARB) on Monday night approved the school’s plan to erect 800 square-feet of solar panels on an angled, south-facing roof visible from Route 114. They are the first visible panels approved in Sag Harbor’s historic district. The ARB has approved two previous applications for solar panels in the district, but has maintained a longstanding requirement that they not be visible in an effort to protect the village’s historic status under state and federal guidelines.
Attorney John Tarbet, representing the school, argued on Monday that placing the panels on a flat roof would counter the school’s efforts towards efficiency, particularly in the winter months with the accumulation of snow.
“In the summer, I don’t believe it will be visible at all,” he said, noting in the winter drivers coming around the bend and into the village on Route 114 will be able to see the panels.
“In our favor, this is not a historic building,” said Tarbet. “It was built in 1966.”
He added it was likely debatable which view would be worse – that of an asphalt roof or of solar panels.
Sag Harbor ARB Chairman Cee Scott Brown did express concern about the neighbors, and in particular if the glare of solar panels would become a nuisance.
Anthony Wilbert, a representative with Go Solar, the company that has agreed to donate their labor in the installation of the panels at Stella Maris, said in his experience, unless panels were curved or installed vertically, on a skyscraper for example, glare has not been an issue. For the residence near the school, he said trees will block any reflection they may experience.
“It doesn’t want to reflect it, it wants to absorb it,” said ARB board member Bethany Deyermond, a teacher in the Sag Harbor School District. “That is the science teacher in me.”
“This is interesting territory for all of us and I think the inclination is, at least mine is, that we have to get with the program,” said Brown.
“It’s a great tester for this area because it is right in the middle of the historic district,” added ARB member Tom Horn.
ARB member Diane Schiavoni made the motion for the board to approve the panels, with Horn seconding and the board unanimously approving the application.
Stella Maris has already collected $17,000 through fundraising for the installation of the panels with LIPA agreeing to uphold a now three-year-old rebate contract to foot $45,000 of the bill. Go Solar will donate their services in installing the panels. According to Tarbet, the school will save $3000 a year in energy costs.
“For us, that is huge,” said Peters. “Also, the kids are so excited about it. It will be a wonderful educational tool.”
On Tuesday, Peters said the school was experiencing renewed excitement about the project, children busily researching the impact of solar energy and the school collectively celebrating the occasion. Next, she said, electrical work will begin and it is her hope the panels will be unveiled at a celebration on April 22 – Earth Day.
“I come from a very environmentally conscious family, so this is very special for me,” said Peters.
And, she added, all members of the ARB will be personally invited to celebrate with the school on Earth Day.
“What I love about the children here is the ownership they feel for our school,” said Peters. “They really think, this is my school, this is my building, this is my Earth.”
In other ARB news, the board approved John and Miki Herrick’s application for an addition at their 5 Hempstead Street residence. They also approved renovations to Paul Alter and Gloria Stern’s 116 Bay Street home, to an additional studio and for the construction of a pool. Lastly, Brown Harris Stevens was given permission for a new sign at their 96 Main Street address, as were Tiffany Scalato and Beth Baldwin for their law practice, Scarlato & Baldwin on Division Street.