Voters in Regional School Unit 11 have approved spending $100,000 to convert three schools to natural gas heating this fall.

The turnout for the special referendum was particularly light Tuesday.

A majority of voters in each of the district’s four communities approved of the project: Gardiner, 108 yes and 7 no; Pittston, 28–4; Randolph, 36–10; and West Gardiner, 52–22.

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 needed voter authorization to spend the money.

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.

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 typically is 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.