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Stevens Delays Energy Fixes

Heating Upgrade Put on Hold; Boilers Given OK for Winter

Claremont — The two operational boilers at Stevens High School can be used for another year with some minor repairs, the Stevens High School Renovation Committee learned Wednesday.

Steven Horton, the district’s representative on the $12.6 million high school renovation project, said a report from consultant Dave Nichols answered “yes, we can,” to the question of whether Stevens can use the heating system boilers this winter.

“One and three are in fine shape,” Horton said, referring to Nichols’ report of the boilers that are in use.

Nichols, who volunteered his services, said a leak in one of the exterior manifolds is “a small plumbing problem,” that can be easily repaired.

He also recommended the district plug a leak in boiler four, which is not in operation, as a backup.

“These are relatively minor repairs,” Horton said. “It is a very optimistic report and is very manageable and should not cause hardships.”

Horton also pointed out that Nichols said the oil-fired boilers are cast iron, very efficient and high quality. The cost for the repairs has not been determined.

The committee accepted Nichols’ offer to inspect the boilers because the original plan to replace them before winter with a wood pellet/propane boiler through an energy performance contract with the Milwaukee-based company Johnson Controls has been delayed indefinitely.

The district has been unable to secure a 20-year loan for the $5 million lease/purchase for the equipment, which also includes upgrades at other schools.

Financing options are still being weighed but even if the district gets a loan agreement, it wouldn’t be finalized in time for the equipment to be installed before the heating season begins.

At Wednesday night’s School Board meeting, board member David Putnam, who is chairman of the renovation committee, said they met with Johnson Controls earlier in the day and discussed reworking the contract, which has not been signed, to provide the heating and energy saving equipment while cutting its annual energy costs.

Putnam said the interest rates are too high at present and under the pending contract “savings would disappear” if the money were borrowed at current rates.

“And we may not be able to get all the equipment,” he added.

Despite the setback, Putnam said Johnson is committed to finding a solution to allow the contract to go forward.

“I feel we are close.”

Voters passed a warrant article in March for a lease/purchase of up to $7 million of energy-saving equipment with the condition that the annual savings in energy costs district-wide would be enough to offset the debt payments each year.

SAU 6 Business Manager Tim Ball said last week they chose to present the 20-year lease/purchase to voters, instead of a bond, after consulting with Johnson Controls.

“Because it is a lease, not a bond, there is a lower standard of voter approval,” Ball said.

The article received a 72 percent majority, but only a simple majority was required. A bond would have required 60 percent.

Interest rates, which rose earlier this summer, coupled with the term of the loan have made it difficult to find a lender while also guaranteeing the savings.

“We didn’t know 20 years would be a problem,” Ball said. “At least three (lenders) told me, if it were 15 years, we’d be in.”

Also at yesterday’s renovation committee meeting, Bobby Allen of Trumbull Nelson, the general contractor, said the new bus loops and parking at the SAU office will be ready when school opens Monday.

“The sidewalks were poured yesterday (Tuesday) and the signage is going up tomorrow (Thursday),” Allen told the committee. “I think we are right on track.”

The committee and school district expect some glitches come Monday morning but will rely on assistance from police to direct drivers and pedestrians.

“Once we get over the wrinkles, I think it will be fine,” said Superintendent Middleton McGoodwin.

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