Quick takes on issues in the news this week in central Maine …

THUMBS UP to Oakland-based Regional School Unit 18, where a biomass boiler approved by voters in 2011 is exceeding expectations on savings.

For the first 12 months of usage, the boiler saved the district $135,539. The contractor, Honeywell, had promised the district a first-year savings of $132,683.

The boiler, which burns locally produced wood chips, supplies hot water heat to three schools in Oakland, including Messalonskee High School. Superintendent Gary Smith said the system will pay for itself in four or five years of savings.

Maine schools have done well to make investments in alternative heating sources in recent years.

The Skowhegan Area High School complex is heated by a wood pellet boiler, at an anticipated savings of $60,000-$100,000 annually. Augusta schools use natural gas, also at a savings. Madison Area Memorial High School is one of a few schools using geothermal heating.

Public schools should continue to look at innovative, long-term solutions to keeping warm in the long winter.

THUMBS DOWN to the closing of yet another Maine dairy farm. Dostie’s farm in Fairfield sold off its 250 dairy cattle at auction last week, citing the cost of replacing old equipment and the inability of Maine farms to compete with the scale of their Midwest counterparts.

As recently as 2000, Maine had around 500 dairy farms. There are now less than 300. It’s a shame to lose these family farms, which guarantee a locally made product and the preservation of acres of farmland.

There is a silver lining for the Dostie farm, which now will raise cattle for beef, an industry that owner Egide Dostie says has a solid future in Maine.

THUMBS UP for two Augusta officials being honored for their work.

Fire Chief Roger Audette has been named fire chief of the year by the Maine Fire Chiefs’ Association. City Manager William Bridgeo said Audette is an asset to the city.

“He’s just done a spectacular job,” Bridgeo said. “[He] exemplifies the attributes the state chiefs look for when they single somebody out for recognition.”

Lori Smail, principal at Farrington Elementary School in Augusta, was named the state’s top elementary school principal earlier this year. This week, she is being honored along with the country’s other top principals at a ceremony in Washington, D.C.

Tamara Blair Kirk, a parent to twins at Farrington and an officer in the parent-teacher committee, said Smail has made the school a welcoming place for parents since taking over the top job.

“Now the school just feels a lot more open,” she said. “They want parents to be there, and a lot of the focus is how they can better communicate with parents.”

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