February 12, 2013

Augusta school board to weigh natural gas option at Cony High School

Up to $732,000 could be spent in energy efficiency upgrades

By Keith Edwards kedwards@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA -- Cony High School and Capital Area Technical Center could be converted to natural gas heat, in anticipation of the fuel soon becoming available in the area.

click image to enlarge

Jim Anastasio

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

The Augusta Board of Education will consider joining with the city in a lease-purchase proposal at its board meeting Wednesday, spending up to $732,000 for energy efficiency upgrades, including a new gas boiler to heat the attached Cony and technical center buildings. The boiler would run on propane until natural gas becomes available.

Buildings and Grounds Director John Pucciarelli estimates converting the two school buildings to natural gas, from oil heat, could save $193,000 in the first year alone. At those savings, the project cost would be paid back within several years.

Last October the Board of Education, in an 8-0 vote, postponed an earlier plan to install a gas boiler and solar panel system at the Cony/CATC campus. Now the plan, minus the solar panel piece, is back before the board for consideration at its 7 p.m. meeting in council chambers at Augusta City Center.

James Anastasio, interim superintendent of Augusta schools, said he recommends converting the buildings to gas. He said the savings in converting to the currently much-cheaper fuel are expected to more than pay for the cost of the conversion.

"I think it makes sense financially, and it makes sense to partner with the city," Anastasio said. "The savings would pay for the project."

Anastasio said the boiler at the technical center is experiencing problems, so something will have to be done. The two buildings share a heating system.

Other energy efficiency upgrades would include some new windows and doors at the technical center.

Anastasio, however, said he does not recommend solar panels, which a previous proposal had included as a supplementary heating source, because their installation would have a longer, 30-year payback.

The lease-purchase deal would join a larger city project, that would convert Augusta City Center, Buker Community Center and Augusta Civic Center to natural gas, and make other energy-efficiency upgrades this fall, at a cost of about $2 million.

City officials have said the heating systems could run on propane at first and would be easily converted to natural gas once it becomes available.

Two natural gas companies, Summit Natural Gas of Maine and Maine Natural Gas, are currently competing for customers in Augusta. Maine Natural Gas has already put some pipe in the ground and plans to provide gas to MaineGeneral's new regional hospital, the Alfond Center for Health, by November. Summit officials expect to begin laying pipe as soon as the weather permits this spring.

Keith Edwards -- 621-5647

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