P/cloudy
47°
P/cloudy
Hi 50° | Lo 36°

Sharon Approves Budget: Pellet Heating System Leads School Meeting Discussion

  • Wilfred Moore says the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of the annual School District Meeting, on March, 3, 2014, in Sharon, Vt. <br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

    Wilfred Moore says the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of the annual School District Meeting, on March, 3, 2014, in Sharon, Vt.
    Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »

  • Sharon Town Clerk Debbie St. Peter administers the oath for election offcial to Fran Schmidt just before the start of the School District Meeting on March, 3, 2014, in Sharon, Vt. On the left is elections offcial Loretta Cruz. <br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

    Sharon Town Clerk Debbie St. Peter administers the oath for election offcial to Fran Schmidt just before the start of the School District Meeting on March, 3, 2014, in Sharon, Vt. On the left is elections offcial Loretta Cruz.
    Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »

  • Wilfred Moore says the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of the annual School District Meeting, on March, 3, 2014, in Sharon, Vt. <br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck
  • Sharon Town Clerk Debbie St. Peter administers the oath for election offcial to Fran Schmidt just before the start of the School District Meeting on March, 3, 2014, in Sharon, Vt. On the left is elections offcial Loretta Cruz. <br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

Sharon — Voters in Sharon approved a $4.1 million school budget for next year as well as spending up to $175,000 for a new pellet heating system at the elementary school.

The budget represents a $150,700, or 3.8 percent, increase over the current year and will add around 5 cents per $100 of valuation to the tax rate, yet it garnered little discussion during a nearly two-hour school meeting Monday night.

Instead, most of the debate centered around the pellet system, which school officials proposed to replace a 25-year-old oil boiler that they say has been expensive to maintain in recent years.

This winter, the oil-fired boiler failed during sub-zero temperatures, causing pipes to break and classes to be canceled for the 153 students who attend the preK-6 school.

A study done in 2012 estimated that the school could save more than $375,000 over 30 years were it to switch to wood pellet heat. And, given the rate of increase in oil costs, the savings could be even more, school officials said. Principal Barrett Williams added that there was an educational component as children at Sharon elementary study the school’s energy use.

But many in the crowd of 70 Sharon voters expressed skepticism about whether such a system was practical or would achieve the savings that were being estimated.

Selectwoman Mary Gavin questioned how the cost savings were being calculated. Others wondered how much maintenance it would require and whether it would be enough to heat a larger facility if the school grows to accommodate a rising student population. The district is planning to add another 2,000 square feet to the elementary school as enrollment has climbed from 103 children in 2012 to an estimated 164 next year.

“It seems to be asking a lot to ask people to vote this up or down tonight,” said Vince Gross.

After around 45 minutes of debate, the article went to a ballot vote and the measure passed 50-20.

The project will be paid for with a 10-year loan, and school officials hope to find grant money to offset the construction costs. Williams said he planned to have the project completed this summer.

All other articles on the warning passed. They included transferring up to $27,500 from the general fund into the curriculum reserve fund and another to move any remaining balance to a building reserve fund.

Don Shaw was re-elected to his three-year seat on the School Board and Karen Henderson was elected to serve the final year of a three-year term previously held by Pano Rodis, who stepped down because of health issues. The turnout was just 7 percent of registered Sharon voters.

Sharon Town Meeting is today at 9 a.m. at the elementary school to act on warning articles, with voting to elect town officers by Australian ballot from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Chris Fleisher can be reached at 603-727-3229 or cfleisher@vnews.com.