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Winnisquam gets its biomass plant

June 17, 2009
TILTON — The "ayes" had it Monday night as members of the Winnisquam Regional School Board voted to accept the recommendation of the Capital Improvement Committee to move forward with construction of a biomass plant and energy improvements within the district.

The project is based on proposals presented by Honeywell and would ultimately see a savings energy and heating costs in facilities owned by Winnisquam Regional School District.

Chairman Michael Gagne announced earlier that evening that the district's request for a Department of Education stimulus bond was fully awarded the requested amount of $3.5 million. This bond is payable over 15 years and has a zero percent interest rate. Fifty percent of the cost will be taken up by building aid.

"This means $1.7 million in interest will be saved over the life of the bond," Gagne said, "and this project will now be self-funded."

The self-funding will come in the form of money saved in energy costs for the schools and buildings owned by WRSD. A possibility exists that more money could be made available for the improvements through the state plan from the Department of Energy Conservation.

In addition to the biomass plant, a new boiler will be installed at Sanbornton Central School, the roof replaced on the Voc-Ag building at the high school and HVAC repairs will be done district-wide.

Ian Raymond of Sanbornton has been a supporter of these energy-savings measures from the beginning and was on hand Monday night to hear the good news. He was especially excited about the biomass plant.

"I just can't wait to see it up and running," he said after the unanimous vote by the School Board.

The wood chip burning plant will be located adjacent to the saw mill by the Voc-Ag building. The chip bin will face the track. The CIP and the board felt this would facilitate delivery of wood chips for the plant yet not impact parking spaces at the high school and middle school. Raymond is hopeful that this building will also include classroom space for students to learn more about "green" energy systems. Classes are being taught on the subject already at Lakes Region Community college, he said, and professors there have told him they would be very happy to see incoming students already schooled on the topic of alternative energy solutions. "Green" jobs are growing in the U.S. at a rapid pace. Raymond said he would love to have children of the Winnisquam District learning more about the opportunities available in this field.

Curt McGee questioned whether the district was planning on putting aside money for maintenance and repairs on these new installments. Mike Hastings, a representative of Honeywell, said that his company does not anticipate that any major repairs would be needed over the 15-year term of the bond.

"The boilers have a 25-year life, generally speaking," he told the board. The only possibility for replacement might be a pump over time. "Nothing major though."

Former School Board member Nina Gardner made a proposal that, as a courtesy measure, the board schedule a meeting with Tilton Planning and/or Zoning Boards to advise them of the project. The district is exempt from having to get approval for these plans but she felt it was important to at least make them aware of the project.

"Not because we have to," Gardner said. "It's just being a good neighbor."

Jasen Stock made the motion to accept the recommendations of the CIC, to allow Gagne to sign the Letter of Intent with Honeywell and to meet with Tilton officials about the project. Engineering plans will take approximately three to four months and the improvements could be complete in 12-14 months, should everything progress as expected. A search is currently underway for a management company to oversee the project and facility.

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