WINTHROP — Three years after residents approved a plan to borrow more than $1 million for efficiency upgrades at the three town schools, officials say their buildings are ready to begin saving money.

“All three of our buildings are in as good a shape as one could hope,” said Superintendent Gary Rosenthal.

Voters in 2011 approved a $1.35 million bond package for upgrades at Winthrop Grade School, Middle School and High School. Most of the work was earmarked for the 40-year-old middle school, which received new boilers, improved lighting and new windows, and the even older grade school, which got a new roof with improved insulation and ventilation. Major upgrades at the high school, which was built in 2003, was limited to more energy efficient lighting.

Rosenthal said oil and electricity numbers fluctuate depending on variables such as the price of oil and the severity of the winter, but he expects the improvements will cut heating oil costs by about 30 percent and electricity costs by 20 percent.

Rosenthal said the upgrades are part of the strategic maintenance plan for each school developed over the past couple of years. Until a couple of years ago, the schools had not undergone much in the way of planned maintenance, which meant officials had to react to more unplanned, emergency maintenance.

“The next budget year will be the first where the whole budget is tied into the plan,” Rosenthal said.

He expects that budget, for the 2015-16 school year, to go up about 3 percent, which would mirror last year. He expects the school board to present the budget to the town council in a couple of weeks.

The efficiency improvements, coupled with the dedicated maintenance plan, will not only help soften the blow but have set the schools up for the future, Rosenthal said.

“They’re not perfect,” he said, “but they are as close for energy efficiency and use efficiency as I think we’re going to get with the money we have.”

Work, which began in earnest in 2012, wrapped up late last year with replacement windows throughout the middle school. The windows, which were not part of the original plan, were the result of several other projects put out to bid that came in well under budget, Rosenthal said. The savings also allowed officials to have additional insulation installed in all of the schools and to install a new efficient freezer at the middle school large enough to serve all three schools.

“They came from the savings we had as a result of the work we did in other areas,” he said. “We saved money on just about every project so we were able to do a variety of additional projects we had not even planned.”

Town councilors toured all three buildings a few weeks ago to get an up-close look at the upgrades. Sarah Fuller, chairwoman of the council, said she was pleased with how the bond money was spent.

“I think everything, from the windows, doors and insulation, is all stuff that was a worthwhile investment,” she said. “It’s already paying back what was borrowed.”

Councilors also learned about the schools’ educational programs. The “insider’s view” was valuable, Fuller said.

“If you don’t have kids in the school system, or you haven’t for a while, you may not get all that detailed information,” she said.

Middle School Principal Karen Criss said school officials were as enthusiastic about the tour as the councilors.

“It’s always fun to show off your buildings and talk about the academics,” Criss said.

The biggest projects, replacing the 40-year-old boiler at the middle school and the new roof at the middle school, will arguably return the greatest reward. The heating system, installed by Winthrop Fuel Company, is more efficient than the previous boiler. The new system, which is comprised of three smaller oil boilers rather than one large one, will allow Troy Tucker, head of maintenance at the middle school, to shut down part of the heating system when there is less demand. A new propane-fired, on-demand hot water system will offer even greater savings, Tucker said. The old boiler consumed 25 gallons of fuel a day in the summer just to keep the water warm.

“Once the heating season is done these will be shut off,” Tucker said.

More than saving money, Criss said the upgrades, particularly the new windows, have made for a much nicer environment. The old windows, which were installed when the school was built in 1976, allowed a near free flow of cold air in the winter. Criss said many of the windows had broken or missing cranks that made them impossible to open during the warmer months.

Oakes & Parkhurst Glass of Augusta installed the double-pane windows.

“They did it at Christmas vacation so there was no interruption at all,” Tucker said. The windows, even on the coldest days of winter, were warm to the touch on the inside, he said.

The grade school, in addition to the new roof, was outfitted with a new, more efficient kitchen.

Rosenthal said much of the electrical savings will come from the new energy efficient, high-density lights installed in all three gymnasiums. Not only are the fixtures themselves more efficient, but the savings is coupled with the benefit of adding motion detection in individual zones. That means when an area of the gym goes unused for 10 minutes, the lights shut off automatically. They spring back to life when movement is detected underneath.

“We’ve got them in all the gyms now,” Rosenthal said.

The energy upgrades include replacing the old fluorescent security lights outside with brighter, more efficient LED lights at all three schools. Rosenthal said the previous lights left dark pockets that made it dangerous for people walking around outside at night.

“It’s made such a difference, safety wise,” Rosenthal said. “You couldn’t even see the curb out front.”

Criss said security improvements also include the addition of cameras at the middle school, which now has one exterior camera and four inside. The cameras, which feed to a recording at the school and to video at the police department, offer increased safety for students and staff. Criss said she hopes to budget for 10 more cameras in the future.

The schools have undergone other improvements covered by the budget rather than the efficiency bond, such as painting and new carpets in sections of the middle school.

“We’re making huge improvements,” Tucker said.

The renovations proved a financial benefit to area businesses as well. In addition to the work done by Winthrop Fuel Company and Oakes & Parkhurst Glass at the Middle School, Winthrop-based SJ Wood Construction Co. did much of the work at the grade school.

“My preference is always to use local people,” Rosenthal said.

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @CraigCrosby4


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