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SACS officials facing tough renovation decisions

DYER BROOK, Maine — After years of cutting corners on maintenance and upgrades to keep its budget in check, Southern Aroostook Community School is now facing a number of large projects. 

RSU 50 Superintendent Todd LeRoy said Jan. 25 that several projects totalling nearly $2.5 million need to be done soon if the district wants to keep its building operational for many years to come.

Chief among those projects is the purchase of a new heating system for SACS. The current heating system is 41 years old and the original equipment when the building opened in 1976. The two boilers operate on No. 5 fuel oil which can only be purchased from a dealer out of Bangor, which comes at a premium due to delivery costs.

In addition, the current heating system is only operating at about 50 percent efficiency, he said.

One of several areas of Southern Aroostook Community School that has been damaged from water leaking through the school’s roof. (Joseph Cyr)

LeRoy said the school board has been aware that the boilers needed to be replaced for a couple of years. The matter struck home when the district had to cancel school on Jan. 3 after one of the two boilers failed and the single furnace was unable to provide enough heat for the entire building.

“The recent failure we had cost the district $21,000,” LeRoy said. “And it’s been almost every year that something has failed. Last year, we had to replace four sections of the boiler at a cost of $10,000.”

LeRoy added he felt that “total failure” of the heating system was imminent, but hopes the district will be able to make it through until spring.

The district has been in discussion with Siemens, a national energy company with an office in Bangor, to replace the ancient boilers with a new, condensed propane system that would operate at 95 percent efficiency and also be subject to a $25,000 Efficiency Maine rebate.

The roof at SACS also is in poor condition, with a number of leaks present inside hallways, the gymnasium and classrooms.

SACS Principal Jon Porter said the district has done the best it could to keep up with the repair issues.

The roof was last resurfaced in 1997 and already has exceeded the 20-year life span of that repair.

Additionally, a new fire alarm system must be installed in the school by September of 2018 following an inspection by the state Fire Marshal’s Office. LeRoy noted that the current alarm system is functional, but needs to be updated.

Many windows and doors inside the school also need to be replaced as they are original equipment from 1976.

Other projects include updating air handlers to increase energy efficiency and better regulate temperatures in the classrooms and replacing a number of fluorescent lights with more efficient LED bulbs.

To fund these projects, LeRoy said he plans to present a “performance contract” concept to the school board that would not dramatically impact the district’s budget and may not require going to a bond. For example, the furnace project would be done through a lease-purchase agreement, which will allow the district to pay for the project over an extended period of time.

Southern Aroostook Community School principal Jon Porter assesses water damage from leaks in the school’s roof. (Joseph Cyr)

“The vast majority of the expenses can be paid for from the savings we would get,” LeRoy said. “Nothing on our list would change the appearance of the school, but either we make these changes or we shut the doors and ship our kids somewhere else.”

An open house was held Tuesday, Feb. 6, for members of the public to see the issues firsthand. The RSU 50 school board will vote on whether to pursue a contract with Siemens for the furnace replacement on Monday, Feb. 12, during its regular monthly meeting, which begins at 6:30 p.m.

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