2011-07-28 / Local & State

Southern Fulton Ponders New Heating System

Hears free presentation on benefits of biomass boiler
By Chanin Rotz-Mountz

Following up on an initial inquiry about the pros and cons of heating with a biomass heating system, the Southern Fulton School Board was treated to a full- blown presentation last Tuesday, receiving information on potential cost and even leasing scenarios.

Paul Lewandowski of Advanced Fabrication Systems (AFS Energy Services) kicked off the July 19 meeting with an overview of his “turn-key operation” that offers everything from sales and service to installation and design. In the business for around 20 years, the AFS representative told the board his company has more than 100 systems spanning 20 states and Canada. Their systems have been extremely popular in larger states, including Pennsylvania, and are utilized in private colleges, schools and hospitals.

Lewandowski stated there is “a lot of opportunity for savings” when comparing the costs of different types of fuels to the woodchips used in a biomass heating system. “We have a Rolodex of potential providers for fuel,” said Lewandowski, who added there will never be a shortage of fuel due to ongoing sustainable forest practices.

The entire process from permitting and design to installation, if approved by the board in the future, would take between 28 days and 32 weeks for completion.

Touching on the topic of financing, Stephen Flaherty, representing

Royal Bank of Canada, presented the board and administration with two options through a lease / purchase scenario. Through his suggested method of funding, Flaherty said the school could make the acquisition without it being qualified as a debt. He equated it as being similar as to leasing a car.

The option of installing a biomass heating system in the high school would carry a cost of $950,000 with a 20-year payment schedule. Included in that scenario is a purchase figure of $45 per ton for woodchips. Grant money is available to fund projects, such as a biomass system, but hinges on structure and only if a district is financing the entire package.

Flaherty labeled that specific option as a “brown paper wrapper without bells and whistles.”

In the event the school would like to implement the same woodchip style heating system at both facilities, Flaherty stated it was unlikely they would see the same projected savings at the elementary school due to its smaller size.

“The elementary is kind of a throw-in or a ride along for free,” said Flaherty.

Superintendent Kendra Trail asked the board to share an initial reaction on what they heard during the presentation to help gauge whether she should continue moving forward through the informational phase.

It was suggested by several members that the district superintendent speak with other districts that have been operating with a biomass heating system for 10, 20 or even 25 years in comparison to a school district, such as Northern Bedford, that is currently going full force with their plans.

Board member Patrick Bard stated he hated to see the matter swept under the rug. However, his concern would be pushing the payment envelope to $1.4 million with a 20-year expectancy, which would likely mean the district would not fare as well. He also noted that if the district steered away from the “ brown paper wrapper” and went with more electronic bells and whistles, they would see more problems with maintenance and higher costs.

“A debt by any other name is still a debt,” chimed in board President Wuertenberg. “It’s an obligation ... . I don’t want to finance with a lease ... . Let’s go with a planned debt and not something a future board won’t be able to pay.”

Wuertenberg said it wouldn’t cost the district anything to pursue obtaining more information on biomass heating, which was agreed on by the eight board members in attendance. Board member Allen Morton was unable to attend the monthly meeting.

In keeping with the topic of expenditures and building improvements, the superintendent reminded those on hand about the most important needs of the district. Both buildings will need to replace all T12 lighting with T8 lighting, said Trail, who also said security upgrades in the vestibules need addressed as does an upgrade or expansion of the wireless network. HVAC upgrades should also be considered.

With many of the items talked about being “out of sight, out of mind,” Trail recommended a board walk-thru of the facilities. The tour should be followed by in-depth conversations and the creation of a time line.

“We can’t continue to put it off,” she concluded.

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