FORT KENT, Maine — A sizable grant from the Maine Department of Conservation will allow the University of Maine at Fort Kent to make two of its largest buildings more energy-efficient.

University officials announced Tuesday that they had received the $500,000 DOC grant, funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The university will use the money to convert the oil heating system at The Lodge, which is its largest residence hall, and the UMFK Sports Center to a biomass system. The biomass system will provide heat for 1.75 acres of floor space and is expected to save the campus nearly $1 million in heating costs in the next decade.

The entire project will cost $858,000. The bulk of that will come from the DOC grant, but UMFK also will provide $318,000 toward the effort. Another $40,000 will come from in-kind contributions.

UMFK President Wilson G. Hess lauded the benefits of replacing non-renewable foreign fossil fuels with renewable local biomass fuels. In a prepared statement, he said, “Promoting renewable biomass fuels is an important economic development opportunity for northern Maine.”

A high energy biomass boiler will replace an oil boiler located in the Sports Center, which is UMFK’s major athletics complex. The new boiler also will heat The Lodge, which is a three-story, two-wing facility that houses 150 students in 38 suites. It was constructed in 2004. Heat will be transferred to The Lodge by means of an underground distribution system.

The 35,000 square-foot Sports Center currently has identical 37-year-old steam boilers. The 47,389-square-foot Lodge has two, seven-year-old oil boilers. According to UMFK officials, The Sports Center and The Lodge consume, on average, 37,292 gallons of heating oil, annually. At this point, the annual cost of heating both buildings is $140,591.

After conversion to the biomass boiler, UMFK expects to spend $51,110 to heat the two facilities, resulting in an annual savings of $89,481.

During a ten-year period, savings would approach $1 million.

The existing boiler room at The Sports Center will be modified slightly to accommodate the new heat delivery system.

The college has already taken a number of steps to green up its campus. The newest campus facilities have been constructed to be more energy-efficient, and an Ecology Committee was created several years ago to find ways to promote recycling and sustainability and to create programs to facilitate each. Powell Hall, a classroom and office building, underwent a $1.4 million renovation last year. As part of the effort to decrease its carbon footprint, construction crews installed heat pumps to allow the building to operate at 300 percent greater efficiency and made alterations so that electricity for the building will be derived at 70 percent from renewable sources. A group of students last year also conducted a project that pointed out ways the campus could save money by changing the refrigeration setup at The Lodge.

The American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, to which UMFK is a signatory, requires that the college reduce its fossil carbon footprint to zero by mid-century. Campus leaders have said they will achieve that goal by reducing its use of fossil fuel-based energy resources, making conservation and efficiency improvements, and offsetting some energy sources with green energy credits and/or carbon sequestration.

One of the oil-fired boilers now in use at the Sports Center will be retained as a backup boiler for use in emergencies, during maintenance of the new system, and to supplement the new system during times of peak demand. One of the relatively new boilers from the Lodge will be moved to another campus facility to replace an older, less efficient unit.

The university anticipates contracting with Northeast Pellets in Ashland to supply the wood pellets for the biomass boiler system. One-hundred percent of the biomass fuel will come from certified sources, including wood certified under Maine Tree Farm, Sustainable Forestry Initiative and Forest Stewardship Council.

The boiler will be ordered once the grant money is received, and officials expect the project will be finished in six months.