GARDINER — Voters in Regional School Unit 11 will decide Tuesday whether the district can spend $100,000 to convert three schools to natural gas heating this fall.

School officials did not find out until June that natural gas would be available in Gardiner, so they didn’t include the project in the district’s budget for this year. They need voter authorization to spend the money. RSU 11 includes Gardiner, Pittston, Randolph and West Gardiner.

The project will not affect local taxes because the $100,000 will be taken from the $225,650 in additional state aid allocated to RSU 11 after the district’s budget was set. In addition, the conversion has a projected payback period of less than a year because of the low cost of natural gas.

“Natural gas coming to the SAD 11 community is a tremendous innovation that we need to take advantage of,” said Eric Jermyn, a school board member from Gardiner. “It can have positive impacts on our budgets for the foreseeable future.”

The proposal calls for adapting boilers at Gardiner Area High School, Gardiner Regional Middle School and Laura E. Richards Elementary School because of their proximity to pipelines being built by Summit Natural Gas.

Each school has two boilers, and the burner on one boiler at each school would be replaced with one that burns natural gas. The second boiler, which acts as a backup and is typically used only on the coldest days, would continue to burn heating oil.

Summit Natural Gas hopes to have gas flowing in Gardiner by early November, just about the time the heating season begins.

Cordjia Capital Project Group estimated that the conversion will cost $80,500 and will save RSU 11 $104,400 in the first year. Savings from the project will go into the district’s surplus for future use.

The vote at a special regional budget meeting on Thursday was 16–1 to send the issue to referendum.

Business Manager Andrea Disch said she hopes for better-than-average participation in the referendum, given the potential for savings.

Although the referendum came about relatively quickly, Disch said it’s the culmination of work that school officials have put in during the last two years to explore alternative fuels and upgrade energy efficiency.

“We have spent two years doing our homework,” she said. “It’s been an ongoing project to try to get these buildings to be more efficient. This wasn’t done lightly.”

Susan McMillan — 621-5645
[email protected]