ANSON — Students here will no longer sit in classrooms that are warmed by heating oil. The school district is instead turning to an abundant Maine resource: wood.

The district’s four schools are converting from oil-fueled boilers to wood-pellet ones, for a minimum net savings each year of $70,000, Superintendent Ken Coville said.

“The combined project will cut our facility heating costs about in half,” Coville said. “At the same time, it eliminates the use of approximately 65,000 gallons a year of oil, which reduces, ultimately, in a small way, the country’s dependence on foreign oil.”

The conversion is also supporting jobs in Maine’s forest industry, because the pellets will come from Geneva Wood Fuels in Strong. School Administrative District 74 has a guaranteed price with the hardwood pellet fuel producer but isn’t bound by a contract and can switch to another company if it chooses, Coville said.

The project at Garret Schenck School, Carrabec Community School and Carrabec High School, all in Anson, and Solon Elementary School, will likely cost up to $750,000. It will be paid for in part by a 15-year qualified school construction bond at zero-percent interest, Coville said.

The school district also won a competitive grant of $250,000 came from U.S. Forest Service Recovery Act money. The district was one of 22 finalists in Maine, out of 90 applicants, to receive the money, said Tom Wood, senior planner for the Maine Forest Service at the Department of Conservation.

Coville on Friday visited Garret Schenck School to examine the self-cleaning wood-pellet boilers, which have a projected life of 25 years. He said he likes the fact the boilers have a compartment that collects wood ash, which can then be sold to farmers or people who make soap.

The district plans to have every boiler installed, and staff trained how to use them, by Sept. 30, about two weeks before the district usually turns on the heat. The boilers have a five-year warranty, while the warranty for the electronic controls is two years.

“If 100 projects of this size were done in Maine, that would be six-and-a-half million gallons of oil a year eliminated, and it would be somewhere in the neighborhood of six-and-a-half to 10 million dollars of savings to the public,” Coville said.

Wood estimated at least 30 districts in Maine use wood as a source of heat, but the vast majority still use oil. Some local districts that use wood, or will soon, include Phillips-based SAD 58, Oakland-based Messalonskee School District and Unity-based Regional School Unit 3, he said.

“People are beginning to recognize the improvement in the technology — the stability and the cost savings,” he said.

And in some areas, such as SAD 58, schools are buying wood directly from their local communities. In SAD 58’s case, it purchases from the mill in Strong.

“When the school cuts its heating bill by two-thirds, the school budget goes down, and it saves the mill in town tax money. Not only do the dollars that they spend on fuel stay in the community, it holds down the cost for the local mill,” Wood said.

Erin Rhoda — 612-2368

[email protected]

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