GARDINER — Laura E. Richards Elementary School finalized its conversion to natural gas Monday, and the two other Gardiner schools switching to the fuel are expected to have gas flowing by next week.
Regional School Unit 11 had expected to be hooked up to natural gas by November and save around $100,000 in heating costs this winter season; but because of the three-month delay, the district probably will save a little less than half of that this season, said Jon Stonier, the district’s director of operations.
“We were originally hoping to have gas sooner, but we understand things happen,” Stonier said.
He expects the high school to have natural gas by Thursday at the latest and the middle school to have it by next week.
Summit Natural Gas of Maine, the company building the pipeline system in Gardiner, also has distribution pipes available to residential customers in the areas around the schools, said Michael Duguay, Sumit’s director of business development. Natural gas is ready for many customers along Highland Avenue, West Hill Road and Brunswick Avenue on the way to the schools, Duguay said. He expects much of the expansion this year to be focused in residential areas around those streets.
Natural gas is also available to downtown buildings on Water Street between the Bridge Street-Brunswick Avenue intersection and the Maine Avenue-Church Street intersection, Duguay said.
The company has 100 residential customers signed up in Gardiner, according to Duguay. He said the company projects having natural gas available to an additional 600 residential customers at the end of this year’s construction season.
Summit, a subsidiary of Colorado-based Summit Utilities, built 68 miles of steel main lines and 35 miles of plastic distribution lines in and near Kennebec County last year, according to Duguay. By the end of this year, he said, the company expects to have natural gas available to a quarter of the customers in the city. He said residents can visit the company’s website to see whether their houses are on the distribution line.
School district voters in September approved spending $100,000 to pay for the three schools’ conversions out of an additional $225,650 in state aid allocated to the district after its budget was set.
For the conversion, a boiler in each of the three schools was equipped with a new burner, Stonier said. The schools all have backup boilers that will burn heating oil when it’s especially cold or if natural gas is unavailable, he said.
Stonier said costs for converting to natural gas totaled about $101,000.
Besides savings in heating costs, Stonier said he expects using natural gas will help the boilers last longer than if the district had continued using heating oil.
“Gas is so much cleaner and better. It’s going to be really nice to have the cleaner fuel doing through the boilers,” he said.
The elementary school is the first Gardiner customer to convert to natural gas, according to a release from Summit.
Stonier said the schools were waiting for Summit to complete the regulator station in Randolph needed to provide natural gas over the river to Gardiner.
Construction delays, including a dispute with now-departed contractor Schmid Pipeline Construction Inc., of Mayville, Wis., slowed the progress in Randolph. The schools were also delayed in installing the burners to be use to use natural gas.
Summit also missed its projected deadline to bring natural gas to Augusta City Center and the Cony High School/Capital Area Technical Center shared campus in Augusta, but the city’s contract stipulated that Summit would be responsible for the difference between what natural gas would have cost and what the city spent installing and using propane to heat those city and school buildings until gas became available. The Gardiner school district didn’t have a deadline in its contract.