Failing boiler adds to Brunswick school issues

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BRUNSWICK — Brunswick High School needs a new boiler.

The existing one was cited by a state inspector in a recent site visit, Facilities Director Paul Caron told the Town Council Tuesday night.

Over the years, condensation has built up in the school’s back-up boiler when it’s cold and not running, causing the metal to corrode, he said.

The cost to buy a new boiler is $575,000. One is  slated to be purchased after building a new high school track, under the town’s capital improvement plan.

But Caron came to the council Tuesday with a proposal to reverse the two undertakings.

The new boiler would have three modulating units, making sure an individual boiler never gets too cold, he said.

Additionally, it would provide a 10 percent savings on energy efficiency, Caron said, giving it a 25-year payback period. Its expected lifespan is 30 years.

Councilors, though, were skeptical about Caron’s pitch.

Councilor Dan Harris expressed concern that the project had been organized as a design-build operation with the provider, Siemens, rather than the design-bid-build approach the town often uses with private contractors.

He asked Stephen Langsdorf, the town’s attorney, to look into whether the town should require a full design-bid-build process for a project of this size.

In public comment, Jim Trusiani, a former Topsham selectman, was critical of the School Department’s plan to fund the project by borrowing.

“You have no money in any account to pay for this?” he asked. “That’s embarrassing.”

In the end, the council unanimously voted to send the project to a public hearing on Sept. 21.

At the School Board meeting Wednesday night, Caron urged board members to attend the public hearing.

If Tuesday night was any indication, the public hearing will be “pretty intense,” he said.

“If anyone wants to support it, it’d probably be a good idea to show up,” he added.

Caron said that even though $575,000 is a lot of money, a boiler failure would be much more expensive to remedy.

Board member Rich Ellis agreed.

“Replacing it now … is inherently less expensive and better engineered” than waiting for it to fail, Ellis said. “This is all part of the concept of keeping (our schools) on a routine maintenance schedule.”

Board Chairman William Thompson reminded members that BHS, often referred to as the “new” high school, turned 20 this week.

The debate over whether to fund a new boiler for the high school comes in the midst of an ongoing dispute between the board and council on renovating Coffin Elementary School and Brunswick Junior High School.

Both schools violate basic standards for fire safety, ADA accessibility, and hazardous materials.

The council voted 8-1 Aug. 2 to reject a $12.6 bond proposal to repair the schools.

The School Board and council will hold a joint workshop Sept. 23 at Coffin to discuss how to move forward, two days after the public hearing on the boiler.

Caron said he had already started preparing his presentation for that meeting.

Scrounging for funding “feels like I’m chasing an eight ball every day,” he said. “And it’s a battle.”

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

Brunswick High School is in need of a new boiler, according to Facilities Director Paul Caron. Its existing boiler is corroding from condensation.

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.