School Bus stock
John J. Watkins, The Times

LOWELL — The installation of 672 solar panels at Three Creeks Elementary School will begin immediately now that the Lowell Town Council has approved the project.

The Lowell Town Council endorsed an earlier recommendation by the Board of Zoning Appeals to grant a variance to allow the construction.

Tri-Creek Schools Superintendent Debra Howe thanked the Town Council and said the school district appreciates the partnership with the town.

Because the area in which the school is located is zoned residential and the use of solar panels is not a designated use in that zone, a variance was required.

The Board of Zoning Appeals voted unanimously last month to give a favorable recommendation to the council, but only after hearing presentations on whether Tri-Creek's request met required criteria.

While James Mandon, a planning consultant to the town, disagreed that all criteria was met, the BZA members apparently accepted the school district's position that the lack of a solar panel ordinance meant another ordinance permitting wind energy in all zones in the town could be used.

Howe said the district will seek a variance next month for a solar panel array at Oak Hill Elementary School, 425 South Nichols St. as part of Tri-Creek's district-wide solar energy plan.

The Three Creeks solar panel array will be on about one-fourth of an acre in eight rows of pole-mounted panels. Each panel is 18 square feet and will generate 34.6 volts and 7.10 amps. A 6-foot tall chain link fence will surround and enclose the area.

Howe told the BZA in May the solar panel arrays are planned to not only save on energy costs, but serve as an outdoor classroom of sorts as they did at Lowell Middle School. Alternative energy science educational kits for problem solving will be used a well as a mock solar array for experiments.

The council also approved a memo of agreement with Tri-Creek for a truancy/attendance court to be conducted by the town at the school district's request.

The memo states the town will contract for one security person and one prosecuting attorney with a maximum of six hours per month for each. Security would be paid no more than $50 an hour and the attorney no more than $150 an hour. The town will provide those payments, then bill the school district quarterly for repayment within 45 days.

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