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Stevens Looks To Postpone Heat Upgrades

With Funding Not Yet in Place, School to See if Boilers Can Last

Claremont — Can the 100-year-old boilers at Stevens High School hold on another year?

Members of the Stevens Renovation Committee are hoping a heating consultant, who is volunteering his expertise to inspect the boilers, will say yes.

With financing still not secured for a $5 million project to install energy-saving heating equipment in the district’s school, the committee voted Wednesday to accept an offer from David Nichols, who has experience in the heating business, to give his opinion on the condition of the two boilers that are in operation.

“He has volunteered to review the boilers and assess what needs to be done to keep them running another year,” committee chairman Dave Putnam said.

The money to fix the boilers would most likely come out of the current year’s budget, said Superintendent Middleton McGoodwin.

Wednesday’s vote along with the absence of financing indicates that the energy performance contract with Johnson Controls will probably not take effect this school year, if and when it is signed.

The committee did not give serious consideration to a second option — installing new propane boilers — because the money would have to come out of the $12.6 million high school renovation bond. It further said new boilers would put at risk the obligation of Johnson Controls — the company that would install the energy-saving equipment — to create enough savings each year for the district to make the loan payments without impacting taxes.

Among the equipment the company would install is a hybrid wood pellet/propane boiler at Stevens.

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, Putnam said another financing possibility has come into the picture following a decision Tuesday by a Washington D.C. nonprofit not to make the loan. HJ Sims, an investment bank in Connecticut, understands the district’s need for a 20-year loan with a non-appropriation clause that would allow voters to decline to make the payments.

“They are very experienced in those expectations,” Putnam said. “We are waiting to hear on their timeline for the process. It could take up to six weeks.”

The school district’s representative on the project, Steve Horton, said Sims has done similar loans for other school districts and municipalities.

In March voters approved a lease/purchase of up to $7 million for Johnson Controls to install the equipment. The company did an energy audit of the district’s schools in the spring and a contract is ready to be signed once financing is in place. Thus far 18 lending institutions have either declined to finance the project or could not provide the school district with a 20-year borrowing plan.

The committee was concerned Wednesday with taking any action that would compromise or change what voters approved.

“We have no other choice (right now) but to try to fix the boilers,” Horton said. “Any other options go against the voters’ wish.”

McGoodwin agreed.

“At least it (fixing the boilers) preserves the integrity of what voters voted for in March,” McGoodwin said.

Committee member Bernie Ferland, who also has experience in the heating field, will be joining Nichols, and committee member Ric Plourde, who works at the school in maintenance, in looking at the boilers.

“The big issue is, are the boilers leaking?” Ferland said.

If not, he and Plourde felt confident they could be fixed with spare parts and last another year.

Putnam said it appears at this point that even if they can secure financing for the Johnson Controls contract, the guaranteed savings in energy costs to cover the lease payments would not begin until next year.

If a financing option fails to materialize, Horton said they might start over next spring with a new request for proposal to other companies.

The school district was unable to borrow from the New Hampshire Municipal Bond Bank because it does not have a program for lease/purchases, the bank’s executive director said Wednesday.

“We are not set up to do a lease purchase,” Sheila St. Germain said. “We only do regular bonds.”

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at ogrady56@yahoo.com.