TEANECK – A large array of electricity-generating solar panels collapsed under the weight of heavy snow in the parking lot of the Benjamin Franklin Middle School on Thursday, the second such mishap in the township in less than a week.
No one was injured and no cars were damaged when the array, over 100 feet long and 25 feet wide, came crashing to the ground at about 9:30 a.m.
The parking area under the panels had been cordoned off since Saturday, when a smaller array collapsed in the parking lot of the nearby Bryant Elementary School, said Anthony D’Angelo, the Board of Education’s director of facilities.
“We took precautions after the first one,” D’Angelo said. “We blocked off all the other ones, and we’re glad we did.”
The Board of Education has several solar panel installations outside schools in the township, each with multiple arrays of panels. In addition to the arrays at Benjamin Franklin and Bryant School, there are installations at the athletic field of Teaneck High School and covering a long walkway from Teaneck Road to the entrance of Thomas Jefferson Middle School.
The panels were installed by an out-of-state contractor in an arrangement with the Board of Education at no charge to the board and providing electricity to the schools at a discounted rate, according to Teaneck Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin.
Hameeduddin said he had received an email from the Board of Education advising him that the collapse of the array on Thursday appeared to have been caused by “stress cracks.” He said he did not know where the cracks had appeared.
Each of the arrays, angled toward the east to take best advantage of sun light, is supported by a cantilevered brace supported by a single row of steel pillars, anchored by bolts into concrete cylinders at ground level. The array that collapsed was supported by about 10 pillars, spaced about 16 feet apart.
When it collapsed, all the pillars pitched forward at the same time, yanking the anchoring bolts out of the concrete cylinders, and coming to rest with the eastern edge on the asphalt paving of the parking lot, and the western edge angled sharply skyward. Three other arrays in the same parking lot nearby remained standing.
D’Angelo, accompanying insurance adjusters at the Bryant School collapse Thursday evening, said it was too early to say whether the problems had been caused by a design problem or a construction quality issue. “We’re not there yet,” he said. “First, we have to clear away the wreckage.”