NAUGATUCK — The failure of solar panels built into the roof of Naugatuck High School may not mean the roof has to be replaced immediately after all.
Officials discovered earlier this year that the photovoltaic solar panels on the roof weren’t working properly and disconnected them, but they still posed a threat since they are constantly producing electricity. The panels were built into the roof when it was replaced about nine years ago.
At first, officials said the entire roof needed to be replaced after initial inspections, and borough officials took steps toward replacing it at an estimated cost of $4.5 million.
However, Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess said last week the borough is moving forward with a plan to remove just the solar panels after a person who worked on installing the roof came forward to provide information on how to safely remove them. Hess said the person did not want to be named, and he declined to identify the person.
“He had a much better understanding of how the solar panels were installed. Based on his special knowledge, he figured out a way to dismantle the panels and preserve the roof,” Hess said.
Naugatuck Public Schools Facilities Director Kevin Dionne said the plan to remove the solar panels and patch the holes would allow the borough not to have to rush into major repairs this year.
“We are going to make sure we do it right,” Dionne said. “We found a way to slow it down a bit and make good decisions.”
However, the process requires making several hundred patches to the roof as the solar panels are removed, Dionne said. He added that he’s concerned about the feasibility of the repair.
“Imagine that 700 times we are going to have to make very good repairs and the roofers are going to have to make excellent patches. So, if that patch doesn’t heat properly, you are going to get water penetration,” Dionne said.
Even if the repairs go well, Dionne said it would likely only be a temporary fix and the borough will continue to have to look into replacing the roof.
“I think within five years we will start seeing leaks and within 10 years it will be unmanageable,” Dionne said. “That’s the first line of defense for any building. Let’s do it right, let’s put a good roof on there and get some solar on there.”
Hess said one of the panels was removed this month and the solution seems feasible.
According to Controller Allyson Bruce, the work was done by New Haven-based G. L. Capasso Inc. and cost just under $3,000.
Hess estimated that removing all the panels and patching the roof will cost $200,000. He said the money will likely come from a surplus the borough is expecting in the 2018-19 budget.
The rubber membrane on the roof was among the concerns for borough officials when they initially inspected the roof, Assistant Fire Marshal James Gies said.
Officials were concerned that the membrane covered everything and, in order to remove the solar panels, the membrane would have to be torn up, ruining the roof, he said. However, the membrane was placed across the roof before the solar panels were installed, and then a second membrane was used to seal the solar panels in place, Gies said. This means the panels could be removed without destroying the original membrane, he said.
Gies said his office is satisfied with how ever the borough proceeds, as long as it means the solar panels are off the roof.
It’s unclear why the option of removing the panels and patching the roof wasn’t presented earlier in the process.
Hess said he was upset that the borough officials, roofers and solar companies who looked at the roof all told him the panels could not be removed and the only path forward was replacing the roof.
“I am frustrated with the 15 people who told me it was impossible to do what we are going to do,” Hess said.
Hess said it’s unclear whether the borough will go out to bid or do the work in-house. The decision will be made based on the timing, since the project has to be completed during the summer while students are not in the school, he said.