Brunswick council approves purchase of new high school boiler

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BRUNSWICK — The Town Council on Monday authorized borrowing for a new boiler at Brunswick High School.

The cost of the project is $575,000, to be paid off over 10 years.

School Department Facilities Director Paul Caron said he recommended the boiler purchase be moved up in the town’s Capital Improvement Plan because the unit has been cited for deficiencies several times by an insurance inspector.

According to Caron, condensation has been building up in the school’s back-up boiler when it’s turned off and cold, causing damage to its interior. It could be at risk of failing, he said.

The project was a tough sell when Caron initially pitched it to the council Sept. 8, and councilors continued to scrutinize the proposal Monday night.

A primary concern was that Caron had secured a proposal from a single installer, Siemens, without going out to bid.

Councilor Jane Millet said that without seeing comparable purchases other schools have made for boilers, “I have no context for (reviewing) this.”

Councilor Dan Harris said that relying on the vendor to make an assessment of the boiler is “not good business practice.”

Caron repeatedly countered that Siemens had already installed all of the energy software at the school, and he’d approached them with this project to keep “all the software consistent.”

Superintendent Paul Perzanoski said the School Department’s legal counsel was consulted about whether the project needed to be put out to bid.

“It was their view,” he said, “that the job may be considered a replacement,” rather than a renovation. Therefore, “competitive bidding under Maine state statute was not required.”

Even the smaller details of the project proved to be contentious.

According to Mike O’Brien of Siemens, the new boiler would have three modulating units, to make sure that an individual boiler never gets too cold. He said the resulting savings in efficiency from a new boiler would be $22,000 a year, resulting in a 25-year payback period.

Councilors John Perreault and Dan Harris at several points sparred with O’Brien over the mechanics of the new boiler.

Council Chairwoman Sarah Brayman cut Harris off several times, saying they were “going into the weeds.”

But in the end, after nearly 90 minutes of discussion, the bond motion passed, with dissenting votes from Harris and Millet.

Councilor Suzan Wilson said she trusted the School Board’s process in putting this project into the town’s CIP.

“It would be arrogant of me to substitute my judgement for their judgement,” she said.

“(This is) something that’s been in the works … for a few years under our CIP,” Councilor John Richardson added.

The project will take six months, O’Brien said, estimating it would be completed by June 2016.

Walter Wuthmann can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow Walter on Twitter: @wwuthmann.

The back-up boiler at Brunswick High School is suffering from condensation damage. It, and the main boiler unit, will be replaced next year at a cost of $575,000.

Brunswick/Harpswell reporter for The Forecaster. Bowdoin College grad, San Francisco Bay Area native. Follow for municipal, school, community, and environmental news from the Midcoast.