BRUNSWICK — The School Board on Wednesday approved two new contributions to the Brunswick School Department, although one more reluctantly than the other.
The board voted 5-2 to accept a donation and free installation of a 10-panel solar electric system valued at $10,000 from ReVision Energy of Portland.
It also voted unanimously to authorize a new “Sunday Supper” program to be run by the Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program at the School Department’s Hawthorne School headquarters.
ReVision Energy has recently been selected as the installing partner in Brunswick’s municipal solar program. “To show its gratitude for being selected,” the company’s proposal states, “ReVision Energy is donating a solar electric system to Brunswick High School.”
Geoff Sparrow, the company’s director of engineering, laid out the system’s specs: the panels would generate about 3,100 kilowatt-hours of electricity each year, enough to power an electric vehicle for 10,000 miles; the panels would come with a 25-year warranty, and the project with a five-year workmanship warranty; and the estimated value, he said, was about $10,000.
Additionally, Sen. Angus King had offered to come speak at the high school about renewable energy to highlight the donation. The system would include a display monitor in the lobby named in honor of King, according to the proposal.
But Sparrow’s pitch was met with skepticism from the board.
Board member Brenda Clough said she was uncomfortable with the “political piece of (this project).”
Board Chairman Billy Thompson agreed; he wondered why the project had to be named after King.
“This is not his initiative,” he said. “(He) seemingly didn’t have anything to do with the gift as it came.”
“I fail to see the connection between the two,” he added.
Other board members worried the system might have hidden maintenance costs down the line, and asked if the panels could be located not on the proposed location of the cafeteria roof, but somewhere else on school property.
Thompson asked what the time line for the project would be, and if the board could take some time to hash out the details.
“Swift decision making,” he said, “is not something we’re known for.”
Sparrow responded that there was no set time line. But “it’s a free solar system that’s going to save the school money,” he added.
The board present voted 5-2 to accept the donation from ReVision, with Thompson and Clough opposed.
According to the company’s proposal, the panels could be installed as early as February.
The second presentation the board heard was for a new dinner program for school families organized by the School Department and the Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program.
According to Superintendent Paul Perzanoski, some school districts around the country receive federal money to offer dinner to students who qualify for free and reduced lunch.
To be eligible for federal assistance, however, 50 percent or more of a district’s students must qualify for free and reduced lunch. Brunswick’s number is closer to 30 percent.
That led staff into discussions with MCHPP, Perzanoski said, to find an alternative way to offer a dinner program for students who are food insecure.
Research shows that children who come to school hungry have trouble learning, focusing and functioning in a classroom environment, MCHPP Program Director Minton said.
Given that a third of students in Brunswick qualify for free and reduced lunch, “probably every classroom in our town has (a hungry child),” he said.
Providing a Sunday meal for children and their families is a way to give “one last really good meal before they go back to school on Monday,” he added.
The pilot program will launch Dec. 6 with a pasta dinner at Hawthorne School from 4:30-6:30 p.m. The food will be provided and served by MCHPP volunteers and staff, and school staff will be on hand to provide homework help upstairs.
Anyone is welcome to come, no questions asked, Minton said.
Minton said the free meal will be considered a pilot program at first, with one dinner a month. He hopes, however, that MCHPP can eventually provide the dinner every week.
Board members unanimously voted to authorize the program.