May 21, 2018
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Greenville moves forward for biomass facility at Oakes School

By Diana Bowley, BDN Staff

GREENVILLE, Maine — The Greenville School Committee voted unanimously Tuesday to move ahead with a plan to convert the steam heating system in the Oakes School to a hot water system, despite some concerns over the lack of data relating to costs and energy savings.

In February 2010, the school was awarded $750,000 in federal funds through the Investment and Recovery Act of 2009 for the installation of a chip boiler to replace the current oil system. The funds, which are being managed by the Maine Forest Service, aim to create and retain jobs, save energy and support sustainable forestry. The money must be committed within two years.

“We were under some obligation to commence this project within a certain time frame of accepting the grant, and that we did with our groundbreaking ceremony last Thursday,” committee member Ron Dobra said Tuesday. The committee has been working with engineer Mark Power of TRANE, a company that provides heating, ventilating and air-conditioning systems, he said.

The vote to move ahead prompted some concern from at least one resident.

“What we don’t have is any numbers at all from Mr. Power and TRANE that will tell us what our energy savings will be by converting to hot water from steam, and those are the numbers we would really like to see before we abandon a steam system that has operated terrifically for 70-plus years,” the resident, Kyle Pelletier, said Tuesday. “If we’re going to borrow $2 million to do this project, I want to know the savings.”

Residents agreed during a referendum last year to pay up to $2 million to upgrade the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system in the Oakes building.

It is expected that residents will be asked in the near future to actually borrow the funds to help offset the total cost. In addition, residents will be asked at the annual town meeting to approve a variance to permit the school to have a footprint for the biomass plant of more than 600 square feet.

A special meeting will be held on June 3 to air more details on the proposed project.

Power, who attended Tuesday’s meeting, told residents that a feasibility study has been done on steam versus hot water. He estimated that the cost of steam, including some asbestos abatement, would be $453,000 while the hot water would cost about $40,000 more. However, the annual savings a year from hot water would be about $11,290. The conversion to hot water would pay for itself in 3.54 years, he said.

That cost would be in addition to about $350,000 for other improvements which must be done with either project.

Power said the committee is looking at a phased approach and is very early in the process. “We’re investigating the feasibility of different options,” Power said. The numbers are very preliminary, he explained.

Greenville Superintendent Beth Lorigan said the committee’s job Tuesday was to decide whether to convert from steam to hot water based on the recommendation of the building committee.

“I’m working on the financing. I’m very optimistic about it, but this is not the forum, we don’t have the numbers,” Lorigan said. She said residents had agreed to allow the school committee to submit a grant proposal, and the grant was awarded. “The Maine Forestry Service and the federal forestry service are expecting us to put in a biomass boiler, and I have signed my name on behalf of the community to do that.”

Lorigan said specific costs and financing information will be available at the June 3 meeting. “It’s silly to me to bandy about numbers that we don’t know for sure what they’re going to be.”’

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