Featured, Local News

Woodstock Union High School to get new heating system

By Curt Peterson

The Windsor Central Supervisory Union board has plans to build a new $80 million middle school/high school — possibly as soon as three to five years. But the current complex, built in the 1960s, has to function until there is a new facility — and there’s still many hurdles until it becomes a reality, including passing the bond vote.

On July 7 a working group of the School Board hosted a public meeting to explore the heating system, how to heat the building through winter, and how any future investments might be transferrable to the new building. More than 20 people attended.

Facilities Manager Joe Rigoli told attendees that proposed repairs and replacements in the existing heating systems, meant to last until the new building is completed, may ultimately cost in the $1 million range — costs that cannot be recovered.

“The heating and plumbing systems are very near the end of their useful lives,” Rigoli explained.

The consensus was that none of the remediation equipment could practically transfer to the new facility.

Rigoli said the existing steam boilers are usable as an interim heat source, but auxiliary equipment needs an overhaul before fall. Time and budgetary constraints limit him to repairing or replacing condensate tanks and traps. The cost for those interim measures might be in the $20,000 range, but Rigoli called that a “very rough estimate.”

Finance and Operations Manager Jim Fenn said the board should authorize $75,000 for engineering to convert the steam system to “hydronic” hot water heating as a bridge until the new building is completed.

Net-zero carbon emissions status is a goal for the new school. McNamee said prospective major donors react favorably to the net-zero concept.

But according to Leigh Sherwood of Lavalee Brensinger Architects, who designed the proposed building, any renewable energy equipment installed now will probably be obsolete when the new building is completed.

Sherwood said achieving net zero would be difficult and expensive. There is little room for solar panels, so power has to come from another source. He said the new building could be net-zero ready, and renewable heat could be added later.

Fenn said he plans to investigate off-site solar opportunities in the fall.

Another option is geothermal heating — drilling below the surface to pass water through natural heat produced by the earth. But, Sherwood pointed out, when the electric grid is down, alternative sources for power are necessary to run the geothermal pumps.

One solution to that quandary would be community solar — getting energy credits against electricity bills for producing solar energy. That would not affect the “net zero” concept.

Mike Caduto, executive director of Sustainable Woodstock, said the Union Arena, which possesses excess net metering credits for solar panels at the rink, is happy to offer them to the district to reduce the cost of any electric heat alternative.

WCSU Building and Grounds Committee chair Jim Haff (Killington), who didn’t attend the July 7 meeting, told the Mountain Times he’s been asked to price sourcing geothermal heat so the board can consider it as an option. He is focused on the more immediate heat situation.

“The piping in the old school buildings is embedded in the concrete base,” Haff said, “and it might begin to collapse. I don’t know what can be done if that happens.”

Haff said he negotiated a contract with Johnson Controls to convert the middle school/high school system to biomass and propane hydronics, with the idea the system would be transferred to the new facility when it’s built, but the board turned down the contract.

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