For a school district that prides itself on environmental awareness but also operates under a tight budget the situation seemed like a win-win.
Thanks to federal stimulus dollars, Browards school district received a nearly $100,000 grant to build solar panels at Miramars New Renaissance Middle School. The district and Broward County government joined forces in 2010 to obtain the grant.
Since then, Browards school district has repeatedly botched the project, according to county documents and those involved in the effort. On Tuesday, School Board members officially canceled their joint construction agreement with the county.
Their vote was the final step in killing a project that was quietly abandoned by district officials last year.
Instead of receiving a 10-kilowatt photovoltaic system free of charge, Browards school district is left wondering what could have been.
Theres a lot of questions that have to be answered, School Board member Nora Rupert said Tuesday.
The solar panels, in addition to reducing energy costs at the school, were also supposed to be a teaching tool for students. And because New Renaissance operates as a hurricane shelter, the solar panels could have provided a source of emergency electricity in the event of a hurricane-caused power outage.
Board member Patricia Good, whose district includes the middle school, said the district should have worked aggressively to get the solar panels built by mid-2012, which was the deadline outlined in the grant. Instead, the district let time slip by without making significant progress.
I remember everyone being very excited about this opportunity, and talking about it, Good said. Im really a little troubled by this whole thing.
In addressing board members, the school districts construction chief, Shelley Meloni, said administrators were very saddened by the project falling apart, and she acknowledged there had been a little bit of a delay in getting a partnership agreement with the county. That agreement was necessary before other key steps such as hiring a construction company could begin.
A project timeline written by county staff shows the federal grant was awarded in September of 2010. By November of that year, the county provided a partnership agreement for the school district to sign.
The districts legal staff then spent four months reviewing that agreement ultimately requesting only minor changes. The countys legal staff responded quickly, and approved a revised partnership agreement within one week, according to the timeline.
But with the ball back in the school districts court, things slowed down. Another three months passed before School Board members were presented with the agreement to vote on.
When the school district finally tried to hire a construction company, there were more problems. The price estimates coming from various companies were too high. Broward County agreed to contribute another $20,000 so that the solar panels could still be built.
The next issue to arise, however, derailed the project for good. In publicly advertising its construction project (so that interested companies could bid on the work), the school district had accidentally omitted required legal language dealing with issues such as fair wages for workers or environmental protection. The missing paragraphs had little practical impact, but technically speaking, they were supposed to be there.