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Energy Fixes Curtailed at Claremont Schools to Lower Costs

Claremont — The committee charged with overseeing the plan for energy-saving upgrades at the district’s schools has dropped a plan to improve the lighting systems at all schools and reduced the number of new windows at the Claremont Middle School in order to lower the annual loan payments for the project.

In a vote Wednesday, the Stevens High School Renovation Committee agreed to reduce total the energy project by $1.3 million to $3.6 million from $4.9 million. The committee also added $550,000 to install more insulation and increase the number of new windows at Stevens High School.

The new proposed borrowing of $4.1 million will be presented to two potential lenders along with a reworked contract with Johnson Controls Inc., the Milwaukee-based company that would undertake the work.

The committee’s decision to scale back the project was neccessitated by a rise in interest rates earlier this summer that would have wiped out the energy cost savings Johnson Controls promised under the original plan to improve the schools’ heating capability.

In March, voters approved a warrant article at the annual school district meeting to authorize the district to enter into a lease and purchase agreement of up to $7 million with Johnson Controls for new energy saving equipment at the schools, including a wood pellet and propane boiler at Stevens.

The annual payments on the loan to finance the project were supposed to be more than offset by savings in energy costs. On Wednesday, committee chairman David Putnam said the savings under the new proposal would be different but would still be guaranteed to covers the annual cost of the bond so taxes will not be impacted.

In the spring, Johnson completed an energy audit of the schools and proposed a nearly $5 million energy-saving project. A contract was drafted with Johnson’s guarantee that the annual savings in energy costs of $275,000 would be more than enough to offset the annual bond payments and allow for additional work at Stevens.

However the committee was unable to secure a lender that would agree to the 20-year payback period of the loan. A spike in interest rates from about 3.5 percent to 5.5 percent also also made the project less financially appealing to the district.

After consulting with Johnson on reworking the contract, the committee was presented with four options Wednesday and chose the one in which the greatest amount of additional work could be done at Stevens. The other options went from $4.7 million to $3.85 million with additional amounts for Stevens from $113,000 to $355,000.

“Let’s go for (option) four and get all the energy savings right now,” said committee member Bernie Ferland.

“The public wants a renovated high school,” added Putnam, the committee chairman.

With the $550,000, the committee said it could add insulation to the east, west and north walls (at a cost of $200,000), install new windows on the north side, ($233,000) and put in new windows on the east or west, ($115,000).

Though insulation and new windows on the south side are part of the $12.6 million renovation now under way at the high school, those same improvements on the other three sides were expected to be paid for with savings under the original $4.9 million Johnson Controls project.

But committee member Deborah Lewis objected to how her colleagues were approaching the problem.

“Why are we doing a partial job on the windows (at Stevens) when the whole goal is to get the school up to the 21st century?,” Lewis asked.

With all she has heard about leaks, cold and noise, Lewis said the opportunity is before the committee to completely fix the problems and not have to think about going back to taxpayers in a few years.

“Right now, you got this money. Get Stevens High School done,” Lewis said.

A new lighting system was recommended to be dropped from the project because it promised the least payback compared with the cost.

A wood pellet and propane boiler at the middle school and weatherizing all the district’s schools is part of the project. No decision was made on which windows at the middle school will be replaced.

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