Falmouth seeks leftover stimulus funds to replace school furnaces

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FALMOUTH — The new school campus on Woodville Road may become an oil heat-free zone, if the schools wins a grant from the Maine Forest Service.

The town applied last week for a grant of up to $500,000 to replace the middle school’s two oil-burning furnaces, which are more than 50 years old, with a wood chip-burning boiler.

“By converting the middle school to wood heat, we’ll use 53,000 gallons less of oil,” School Board Finance Chairwoman Analiese Larson said.

Larson said the replacement boiler is projected to save the School Department approximately $115,000 per year.

The grant was announced at the end of February for shovel-ready projects. Applications had to be in by the end of March for the $2.7 million in leftover American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds made available for wood-to-energy projects.

Last spring the district began using a wood-chip boiler at the high school, which will also heats the new elementary school. Larson said that switch replaced 100,000 gallons of oil, saving approximately $230,000.

If a new boiler is installed, Larson said there is a possibility it could also heat the nearby Town Hall by running pipes underground in the same way the boiler at the high school heats the nearby elementary school.

The entire boiler project would cost approximately $1.5 million. Larson said the School Board is considering two funding options for the remaining $1 million if the grant comes through.

The first option is a 15-year lease-purchase agreement that would cost $70,000 per year.

The second option is using money from undesignated funds to make the purchase.

Either way, the proposal will have to go to voters for approval because it would exceed the town’s spending cap. Larson said the grants will be awarded by the end of April, which will give the district time to put together referendum language for the June ballot.

The School Board and the Town Council voted unanimously to support the grant application, and Larson said she’s confident about the town’s chances.

“We had collective support and certainly have the knowledge of wood-chip boilers,” Larson said.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @emilyparkhurst.