• Gabriel Donio

Solar array at high school: A hideous obstruction


Solar panels block the view of the Hammonton School building while driving on Old Forks Road. Photo taken October 1, 2021. (THG/Kristin Guglietti)


What were they thinking when they blocked the view of Hammonton High School with a huge solar array on the front lawn of the school, a hideously ugly obstruction we will have to endure for decades to come?


Here’s what the board members said during their regular meeting of October 14 about the project—a project that impacts the public. Did many members of the public participate in deciding where the solar array was placed?


Wait until you read these comments from the board, starting with John Lyons.


“Work continues. They’ll be doing some work across The Road to Excellence to connect the solar arrays to each other; that work will not disrupt homecoming or any of the other events we have planned. We’re really getting to the end here; we’re in the fourth quarter, so I’m hoping we’ll have everything wrapped up in the next couple of months,” Lyons said.


Lyons quickly followed up with this statement about the solar array during the meeting.


“There’s been a lot of comments in the community in a lot of different forums; people have a lot of things to say. I would just say that solar panels … don’t look good anywhere. But I think as a board of education, we have to set an example and do the right thing. Two, the money that we save on electric costs will go toward funding almost a full staff member, so I’m happy to do that,” Lyons said.


These comments were followed by Hammonton Board of Education President Sam Mento III, who said the project was “only half-complete.”


“I think the people will be pleasantly surprised upon completion how it does look. We have nice plans for very high-quality fencing, and shrubbery and landscaping to offset the look of the panels,” Mento said.


Let me address each of these comments, starting with the board president, since he is the leader of the board of education.


If you have to say publicly that you need to “offset the look” of the panels, that’s a pretty stinging indictment of how bad they look. Thank you for admitting it. A fair warning: the school district’s record on keeping shrubbery alive, particularly new shrubbery, is not good. Thirdly, shrubbery and fencing sounds like great hiding places for people who would like to hide, just a thought. Lastly, how high are you making the fencing along the Old Forks Road side of the solar array?


Let me make a suggestion: Make the Old Forks Road side of the fencing, say, 35 feet high and instead of shrubbery, put a large photo image of the front of Hammonton High School on it. If people drive by fast enough, they may not even realize the difference.


As for being pleasantly surprised by the look of the project upon completion, I doubt it.


As for Lyons, here’s a response: I will be looking forward to comparing any other upcoming solar array projects done by the municipal and school governments and the amount of money they bring in, as well as where they are placed in the town, to the abomination that has defiled the front lawn of Hammonton High School for the coming decades. I have a feeling that comparison should be an interesting one.


Look, Hammonton High School was never a beautiful building, but what it had going for it was a beautifully contoured landscaped property that flowed down toward the building, unspoiled. It’s safe to say the front lawn is spoiled now, in my opinion—and in the opinion of many other taxpaying residents.


Sometimes ugly is just ugly, particularly when it is created by shortsighted decision-making under the guise of being “green.” We’re working on how this contract was put together and who was involved on both sides of it.


It is important to be environmentally-friendly, but there are ways to do it in a manner that is aesthetically pleasing. Are we going to suddenly allow all the homeowners to place these arrays on front lawns throughout town?


Or is there just a double standard for publicly-owned property?


Gabe Donio is the publisher of The Hammonton Gazette.