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Ohlone ahead of its class in solar energy

Campus will generate 30 percent of its power needs

By Angela Woodall, Staff writer.

Saturday, July 29, 2006—Reprinted from Inside Bay Area: The Argus.

Fremont—As California struggles with the barrage of record temperatures and energy demand, Ohlone College officials are boasting about their solar-powered Newark campus.

"We're breaking a bit of new ground here," college President Doug Treadway said as workers installed the circulatory system of the design in 90-foot-long trenches Thursday.

WORKERS AT OHLONE COLLEGE'S Newark campus install geothermal coils in a 90-foot trench, part of the school's money-saving solar energy system. The install includes 26 miles of 500-foot long geothermal coils. —Photo by ANGELA WOODALL Staff photos.

The 26 miles of coils are the veins of its solar-powered network, which Ohlone expects will generate 30 percent of the campus's energy needs.

"If the campus was operating now, it would be feeding energy back to the power grid," Treadway said. "It helps the public and our bottom line."

The design puts the college at the head of its class in terms of clean energy, which comes from 2,500 solar panels that will cover the roofs.

The coils, each 500 feet long, will extract the heated air from the 135,000-square-foot building, transfer it to the ground through the water in the coils and return cooled air to the campus's 16 classrooms.

Even California lawmakers have got behind the solar design.

U.S. Rep. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who earmarked $250,000 for the project in an energy and water spending bill being considered in Congress, has praised Ohlone for using clean, green energy.

Asked if the expectations of the college were overstated, Trustee Bill McMillin, one of two Newark representatives on the Ohlone board, said that is a risk. But it's worth taking because the option is to keep relying on fossil fuels for energy, he said.

"Anything we can do to savemoney and energy is good," he said.

Thursday was a sweet moment for Ohlone officials after the hurdles the campus has faced since its inception—nesting endangered owls, prolonged rains and steel price increases.

Construction crews broke ground in May 2005, and the first steel beam was placed this month. But instead of opening its doors for the fall 2007 semester, classes won't begin until January 2008.

The constant heavy rains this spring are partly to blame, said Deanna Walston, head of financial services at Ohlone. Now the college is bracing itself for as much as $1million in overtime costs accumulated as construction crews tried to catch up.

However, Hurricane Katrina, which caused a nationwide increase in steel prices, is most to blame, Walston said. The price tag was $100million in 2002, which trustees later reduced by $5million.

Spending at present is just above the $107 million mark for the building alone. Ohlone has mostly footed the bill with $100 million reserved for the campus in the 2002 Measure A bond, as well as accrued bond interest, bookstore reserve funds, and a $1.5 million Pacific Gas & Electric rebate.

Now the college is trying to raise $10 million for the equipment needed to fill classrooms through a capital campaign headed by Dave Smith, mayor of Newark.

"It's all coming together," Treadway said. "We have a chance to be part of the solution, not part of the problem."

Staff writer Angela Woodall covers Newark and Ohlone College. She can be reached at (510) 353-7004 or at awoodall@angnewspapers.com.

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