MADISON — Chad Grignon was a freshman in 1987 when Madison Area Memorial High School was built and the oil-fired boiler was installed.

Now, 25 years later, the heating system has to be replaced and Grignon is the foreman of a family-run business installing the outside piping for the high school’s new geothermal heating system.

“It’s a true solar system because it’s using the solar energy in the ground from the sun heating the earth,” Grignon said. “It’s going to heat, it’s going to cool and it’s going to bring fresh air into each classroom.”

Work on the $1.2-$1.6 million energy system will be completed inside the school by the time classes resume on Wednesday, according to Superintendent Todd LeRoy. Individual energy transfer units already have been installed in all 30 classrooms and offices.

“By mid to late September we should be up and running, which will be plenty early enough for the heat. We will test out the air conditioning as well,” LeRoy said. “The big thing I’m looking for is I’m anxious to see the difference the fresh air is going to make. Our old system had no fresh air coming into the building — picture 20 kids sitting in a room with the door closed. Having that fresh air keeps them awake, keeps them alive, keeps them on task.”

The School Administrative District 59 board in March gave LeRoy authority to negotiate a contract with Next Energy Geothermal of Elmira, Ontario.

Grignon and Pine State Drilling, of Athens, along with ABM Mechanical of Bangor, are doing the work.

LeRoy said the district negotiated a lease and purchase agreement with Next Energy to pay for the system during the next 15 years. The hope is that the savings each year on projected $4-per-gallon heating oil prices will pay for the system.

“We’re hoping that cost savings will just about cover what our payments are going to be,” LeRoy said. “We’ll probably be saving at least $50,000 a year in oil costs.

“What we’re looking to do is to try to find a low-interest bond that we can put on that same period so we can have a consistent price, say a $70,000 a year payment, all the way through.”

He said the school board would have to approve the borrowing.

Grignon said the system uses the temperature of the earth, which averages 45 degrees, to heat and cool buildings. His company has drilled 35 holes 500 feet into the ground on the west side of the high school. Each hole has a looped, piping system with water, mixed with methanol, that absorbs the warmth of the earth.

He said using geothermal energy is a process involving a heat exchange system of pipes that collect stored solar energy from the ground.

The water and methanol in the pipes move into a heat pump in each classroom where gasses are warmed by the fluid and then compressed, creating more heat. The heat then moves through an air delivery system, or ductwork, into the ceilings of each room for warming.

Grignon said a reversing valve inside the unit sends the gas in the opposite direction, cooling the gas during the summer to cool the room.

Each room in the high school has an independent control and exchange system, meaning any malfunction will be isolated and not affect the entire system.

“It’s not central heating,” Grignon said. “Each room is like its own building — you have a lot more control and efficiency.”

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