District officials cut the ribbon on new biomass heating plant at Sanbornton Central School

Johnny, a fifth grader at Sanbornton Central School, had the honor of cutting the ribbon on the school's new wood pellet heating plant last week as his classmates looked on. (Photo by Donna Rhodes) (click for larger version)
March 16, 2017
SANBORNTON — On March 9, students at Sanbornton Central School helped Winnisquam Regional School District Facilities Director Rob Berry and SCS Principal Kathy Pope cut the ribbon on the new biomass plant that will now be heating their school.

With the success of the biomass heating system that serves the Winnisquam Regional Middle School and High School, and the success of the solar array powering Southwick School, voters in the district last year approved a new biomass heating plant for SCS as well, which was put online last week.

Berry said he found that the underground fuel tank and the two boilers inside the Sanbornton school were in poor condition. Rather than replace them with other oil burning equipment, the district opted for an eco-friendly wood pellet burning plant.

With the green light from the district in March of 2016, Ian Raymond, a state representative, former member of Sanbornton's Energy Committee, and the driving force behind the first biomass plant for the district, pitched in to help once again.

Raymond filed an application on behalf of the school for a $2,500 feasibility grant for the project. The grant they received also provides a 40-percent rebate, up to $65,000, for the wood pellets that will run the plant.

Raymond said wood pellets were the preferred source of heat for the school over the wood chips used for the high school and middle school facilities.

"The pellets are more space efficient for the limited room available here at Sanbornton Central School," he explained.

Construction on the plant itself began last June and children at the school were fascinated by all the heavy equipment and work going on outside their classroom windows.

For that reason, Berry invited everyone to come outside to the new facility last Thursday when the new boilers behind he school were up and running. Berry even had the doors to each of the three rooms of the building wide open so they could all get a good look at the finished product.

"This has been a big part of their lives as they watched it being built," he said.

Besides a room each for pellet storage and the wood boilers, there is a third room for school equipment, which now replaces the former storage shed that was torn down to make room for the new heating plant.

Children were curious about how the new pellet heating system worked and Berry took time to explain that is all renewable energy and not oil, which cannot be replaced once it is removed from the ground.

"Unlike oil, when you cut a tree down, you can plant another and always have wood as a source of heat," he told the boys and girls.

He pointed out the three large bins of pellets that feed the boilers, saying that when filled, each bin weighed as much as four large cars or trucks.

The boilers have computerized systems that can call for more fuel as it is needed. Vacuum hoses then pull wood pellets from the bins and carry them to the boilers in the next room. There, they are burnt to heat water. That hot water is eventually pumped through underground pipes to bring warm air into the school building through the radiators.

Once it is cooled, Berry said, the water returns to the burners through a big loop of piping where it is heated once again before being sent out to provide more heat.

"Oh, so that's why there were all those holes in the ground," said one first grader as he listened to Berry's explanations.

After all the younger students had a chance to visit the facility, fourth and fifth graders came out to officially open the new eco-friendly heating plant.

As Berry and Principal Pope held the ribbon, Johnny, representing the fifth grade, had the honor of cutting the ribbon.

"The district has seen a $1.3 million savings in heat at the high school and middle school since it was constructed in 2008 and hopefully we'll be seeing a real benefit here as well," said Raymond.

While exact figures on the smaller Sanbornton facility will not be known for awhile, it is projected that, like the district's other biomass plant, the new wood pellet system will bring a significant savings to the district and its taxpayers in the years to come.

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