June 20, 2018
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Greenville School Committee moves ahead on energy improvements to Oakes building

By Diana Bowley, BDN Staff

GREENVILLE, Maine — The Greenville School Committee agreed Monday to install a wood pellet boiler in the building that houses the middle and high schools and to make other energy conservation improvements after voters last month rejected a biomass facility.

The alternative project for the Louis Oakes building, not to exceed $1,967,781, will be funded in part by a $750,000 Investment and Recovery Act of 2009 grant awarded through the Maine Forest Service. The remainder of about $1.22 million will be financed by funds approved during a June 8, 2010, referendum.

The contract for the project was awarded Monday to TRANE, a worldwide heating, ventilation and air conditioning firm, which has been working with school officials for several months. The project will include changing the heating system from steam to hot water, improving the ventilation system, removing asbestos from pipes and insulating the building.

“The school committee is trying hard to put in a system that will be efficient and fiscally manageable for the town,” Greenville School Superintendent Beth Lorigan said Wednesday, noting that several engineers have been looking at the school’s needs for three years.

Not everyone on the school committee, however, supported the change. Newly elected committee members Mike Theriault and John Cobb asked for 48 hours to review and study the new alternative and its costs, but their request was denied, prompting one audience member to say the committee got “railroaded by TRANE.” Both Theriault and Cobb voted against the proposal.

“They basically brought it [the alternate plan] in, gave it to us at the eleventh hour and wanted us to vote on it that night,” Theriault said Wednesday. “I’m not going to vote for anything until I take a look at the numbers, and they wouldn’t give us 48 hours.”

Last month, residents defeated, by a vote of 336-166, a referendum that would have amended the June 2010 referendum vote regarding funds for school improvements. That amendment would have allowed the school committee to include construction of an accessory building to house a biomass facility and the fuel; allowed the biomass facility to serve the gymnasium as well as the school; and authorized the town to accept the $750,000 grant to finance the additional project costs.

While some residents say the defeat of that referendum rejected the grant, the school’s attorney believes otherwise. A legal opinion from Drummond Woodsum of Portland obtained by the school committee stated that the failed referendum did not reject the forestry grant as such; rather, it rejected a proposed increase in the project costs, Lorigan said. She said the June 2010 referendum approved the use of $2 million and last month’s referendum would have increased the project to $2.5 million.

Lorigan and the school committee, which reduced the scope of the project from a biomass facility to a wood pellet boiler after last month’s vote, believe residents were confused about the referendum, and in particular, the grant, according to the superintendent.

“We are going to accept the forestry grant” as a way to help offset the energy improvement costs, Lorigan said. The energy savings would have been much greater with a biomass boiler, but there still will be significant savings with the wood pellet boiler, Lorigan said. No building will be necessary for the wood pellet boiler. One existing oil boiler will be used to help heat the school, but the oil costs will be reduced by about 20 percent from last year, Lorigan said.

Theriault said that while he was not opposed to a wood pellet boiler, he was against investing the entire $2 million into heating and ventilation upgrades when the school also has plumbing and electrical needs. In addition, he said, the elementary pupils may be moved to the Oakes school in the future, and that would add other improvement costs.

“It’s kind of like putting on a big Band-Aid, saving on a little oil, but the rest of the problems of the school still exist,” Theriault said. He also faulted the school committee for awarding the contract to TRANE without soliciting bids.

Lorigan said the committee understood Theriault’s concerns but is working under a tight schedule. She expects the project will be completed before September’s school opening.

To update the public on the progress of the project and other summer projects, the school committee will hold a special board meeting at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 1 in the Nickerson Elementary School.

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