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Holmes to Get Heated

After debate, the Board of Finance votes to appropriate $410,000 for a boiler replacement project at the elementary school

A top priority capital project of the Board of Education came under scrutiny at the Board of Finance meeting last Tuesday, as members questioned the urgency of appropriating the $410,000 necessary to replace two boilers at Holmes School before the start of the coming academic year.

Replacement of the two oil-fired steam boilers at the elementary school is one of the few top priority projects featured in the Board of Education's 2010-11 budget, and a project long overdue, said Director of Facilities Paul Engemann. At 75 years old, one of the boilers has reached the end of its life; a second 14-year-old boiler has been working overtime as a result.

The Board of Finance voted to appropriate the necessary funds for the asbestos abatement and replacement, but not before questioning the urgency of the project, which at $410,000 will make a significant dip in the town's fund balance.

"I just want to go home feeling good that, by golly, that thing's going to blow up if we don't replace them both right now," said member Jon Zagrodzky.

A similar boiler replacement project at Royle School received the Board of Finance's stamp of approval last year. In that case, the two boilers were both on their last legs and had failed code inspection; replacing both was urgent. But this year, with one relatively young boiler still in working condition, the need for funding doesn't seem quite as pressing, said Zagrodzky.

"Can't we wait three years? Given everything that's going on right now, is there any reason that this has to be done right this minute?" Zagrodzky asked.

Engemann said that he while he could not guarantee that the 75-year-old boiler would "blow up" anytime soon, he would be remiss in failing to bring the possibility to the board's attention.

"Trust me, I understand times are tough, but I don't want to be standing here next year saying that the boiler has failed, and that school's going to be 60 degrees or whatever," said Engemann. 

Member Lorene E. Bora asked whether the schools had to stay at a certain tempature, per state policy. Board of Education Secretary Clara Sartori said that , there are some regulations for medically fragile children.

Engemann said replacing just the "ancient" boiler was a possibility, but that replacing both at once could amount to a savings of about $80,000.

"I like to think of it as if it were my own money, and if it was my money, I'd do both," said Engemann.

Vice Chair Martha Banks then questioned, albeit indirectly, the efficiency of the public  schools' heating system:

"At our public hearing, a kid at the high school said, 'It is roasting in some parts of the building.' Can you comment on that?"

Engemann said he had heard the story, and that classrooms throughout the district are kept at 69 degrees.

Before voting unanimously on the special appropriation for the full $410,000 request, members asked Engemann to "look into" the high school heating situation, and to bring information regarding potential savings of running the new boilers on gas and oil before the Representative Town Meeting.

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