Pennsylvania's United School District could save total of about US$5.4M over 15 years by heating high school with woodchips and making other energy-saving upgrades, more than enough to finance the US$4.4M project, finds report by a potential contractor

, May 14, 2014 () – Burning wood chips instead of fuel oil to heat its high school near Armagh and making other energy-saving upgrades should save United School District more than enough money to pay for those proposed $4.4 million in improvements, according to a report by potential contractor Schneider Electric.

Schneider representative David Kramer projects that the district would realize total savings of about $5.4 million over 15 years, once the equipment upgrades recommended by his company are in place.

"You're looking at a $2 million positive cash flow by the time 20 years rolls around," Kramer said as he presented his company's recommendations at a school board workshop meeting Tuesday.

Kramer's company is looking to back up those projections with cash -- offering to cut United a check to cover any annual shortfall in expected savings under a proposed performance contract the firm is seeking with the district.

In a scenario presented by Kramer, the district's savings would equal the payments needed to finance the $4.4 million project cost over 15 years, after which the savings would have a positive impact on the district's cash flow.

According to Kramer, much of the savings would be realized through the lower cost of wood chips as a fuel source compared to the fuel oil United currently uses to run its boiler system. Those savings, he said, based on projections of current fuel costs, would be close to $300,000 in the first year alone.

The facility improvements Schneider is recommending include replacement of the district's oil-based boiler system with a "biomass" boiler system that would burn wood chips -- with one exception.

Kramer explained that the biomass boilers operate most effectively when they are in extended use during the coldest months of January through March. So, he recommended that the district retain one oil-fueled boiler for "shoulder days" at the beginning and ending of the heating season when a boiler would be needed to run for only a portion of the day.

In addition to equipment for storing the wood chips and feeding the new boilers, the proposed project calls for new pumps and piping throughout the boiler room. Also, new insulated hot water piping would replace the existing steam piping in the building's crawlspace and all ventilating units similarly would be converted from steam to hot water.

Kramer noted that much of this heating infrastructure is close to 60 years old and is due for replacement anyway.

With the completed improvements, he told the school board, "You'd have a clean slate for all your major mechanical systems."

He noted that the school has an antiquated pneumatic control system that would be replaced with digital controls as part of the project.

Kramer said the new control system is the only part of the proposed project that would not pay for itself through energy savings. But, he said, "It's a practical measure that needs to remain."

Interior and exterior lighting and lighting controls at the school also would be updated with more efficient fixtures. "Occupancy sensors would be scattered throughout the building," he noted, while those exterior lights that are mounted on the building would be upgraded with L.E.D. lighting.

Schneider is also recommending installation of weatherstripping around exterior doors. In addition, sinks would be upgraded to help reduce the district's water consumption and sewage flows.

In addition to saving on energy costs, Kramer said the proposed project would "improve comfort and the learning environment. Sometimes it can get quite hot throughout the building."

Kramer pointed out that the district could be eligible for a government rebate for installing more efficient lighting. If United awards Schneider the project contract, Kramers said his company could help the district prepare applications for various other grants or loans it might qualify for to assist with the energy-saving improvements.

G. Thomas Kalinyak, United's director of finance, expressed concern about how the district's projected savings would be affected if the cost of fuel oil would decrease in comparison to the cost of wood chips. Kramer said he could prepare additional scenarios for district officials to study based on a potential drop in the cost of oil.

United solicitor Ron Saffron also asked Kramer to provide references for other districts that are using similar biomass boilers.

Work has just begun on $2.4 million worth of renovations at the high school that will relocate the offices, the library and some classrooms in order to create a more secure main entrance to the building. That project, which includes some HVAC, plumbing and electrical work, is expected to wrap up by March of next year.

That work caused this past Tuesday's school board session, as well as next Tuesday's regular voting meeting, to be relocated from the high school library to the elementary school library.

"We feel your high school project would work with our hot water system, with only minor changes," Kramer told United officials.

If the school board decides to proceed with the energy-saving improvements, Kramer said, the next step would be to advertise for proposals from ESCO (energy services companies) looking to partner on the project -- with Schneider possibly competing with other firms for the resulting contract.

He said, with about 4 to 5 months needed for final design of the improvements, the district could look to sign a fixed-price contract for the project as early as October or November. "That sets us up very well for summer (2015) construction," he said.

As proposed by Schneider, the upgrades would be a "turnkey" project for United, with district officials having to deal solely with Schneider representatives. He explained Schneider would be responsible for all engineering of the project as well as managing contractors that would complete the actual construction work.

In addition to guaranteeing the agreed-upon district savings target, Schneider would offer project support after completion of construction -- including training district maintenance staff in use of the new equipment.

At Tuesday's meeting, district facilities coordinator Ed Sutter reported on the current high school renovation, noting that asbestos abatement began the previous day. He said district staffers are debating what to do with furnishings in the existing library space, which will be converted to the new office area.

Sutter said some staff have expressed interest in reusing shelving in classrooms.

Jeff Himler is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2910 or


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