Phoenicia Elementary proposes a high-tech wood biomass heating system

By Jay Braman Jr.
If voters approve, the Phoenicia Elementary School will be heating with wood next year.
No, there won’t be a big Vermont Castings stove set up in the gym or any such thing, but rather a hi-tech biomass system that is fueled by wood pellets that school officials say it will make for a more environmentally friendly school.

The project is part of a $7 million capitol project plan that goes before voters next month.
“Our buildings are old,” said District Superintendent Phyllis McGill. “Just like old houses, our buildings need to be periodically upgraded to improve efficiency, prevent system failure, avoid costly emergency repairs, and preserve the buildings’ structural/system integrity.”

Money’s in the bank
This and other projects, McGill said, will not increase school taxes because 95 percent of the project will be eligible for state aid at the district’s aid ratio of 31 percent. According to the superintendent, once the $5 million from the voter-approved Capital Reserve Fund is applied, along with $2 million from unappropriated fund balance, the project can be fully funded without needing to borrow money and incur interest costs.
The wood burning heat system is actually a small part of the overall capitol plan. Approximately 88 percent of the work is planned for the Onteora Middle School/High School (MS/HS) campus and includes:
Converting the 60-year-old steam heating system to an efficient hot-water system. Modern boilers and new classroom unit ventilators would be installed, replacing current models that are up to 50 years old.

Other updates
Installing modern drop-in ceilings that are asbestos-free and that can support the addition of technology wiring and other infrastructure essential for today’s modern classrooms.
Renovating 50- to 60-year-old bathrooms by replacing broken and missing tiles and damaged ceilings, and installing energy-efficient plumbing fixtures and associated piping.
Removing antiquated steam and condensate piping.
Replacing deteriorated interior doors, some of which are 60 years old and original to the building.
Reconstructing plumbing drain­age in its entirety, replacing aged, leaking pipes.
Replacing worn and deteriorated asphalt paving in parking areas, drives, curbs, and walkways.
The district needs voter approval to move forward. The capitol project referendum goes before voters on May 20.