AUGUSTA – By the end of the construction season nearly all of major city-owned buildings could be heated by natural gas.

City councilors Thursday approved a plan to convert Hartford Fire Station and the John Charest Public Works Facility from oil heat to natural gas.

The conversions, approved unanimously and without debate, are expected to be done this summer. That would leave Lithgow Public Library and the Augusta Civic Center as the only major city buildings yet to be converted to natural gas.

Lithgow is slated for a major renovation and expansion in about a year and will likely get a new gas heating system as part of that construction, according to Ralph St. Pierre, city finance director and assistant city manager.

The Civic Center could possibly switch to gas for a heat source later this summer, too, according St. Pierre.

Savings from switching to natural gas, which in recent years has been significantly cheaper than oil, are expected to more than cover the cost of converting the oil boilers currently used for heat.

St. Pierre said the cost of the proposed $290,000 lease-purchase deal to convert the fire station on Water Street and public works buildings on North Street to gas could be paid off in about 10 years with the savings generated from the switch.

He said the boilers at the 94-year-old Hartford station and three buildings at the public works department that would be replaced are old and would likely need to be replaced soon anyway. The current boiler at Hartford is a steam boiler.

A financial analysis put together by St. Pierre projects yearly savings of just less than $24,000.

“We can pay (the lease-purchase cost) off and have some slight savings,” St. Pierre said. “And we also limit the volatility of the oil market we’re seeing.” St. Pierre said additional unrest in Iraq could impact oil prices.

The police station and airport, which are heated by propane, will also be switched to gas over the summer, St. Pierre said. Switching from propane to natural gas is, generally, an easier and much cheaper conversion, requiring only a different nozzle, not a whole new boiler.

And the school department is also converting the city’s four elementary schools to natural gas, aiming for conversion in time for the start of the school year.

The vote by councilors authorizes City Manager William Bridgeo to sign a contract with New England Energy Solutions for the public works and fire station conversions from oil to gas.

Keith Edwards – 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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