WILTON — Selectmen sold the local Primary School on Tuesday for $50 on the condition that the Planning Board and town voters accept a zoning change for the School Street site.
Michael Wells of Wilton was the lone bidder for the school that has an assessed value of $71,000. His plans for the site include biodiesel fuel production and agricultural equipment maintenance and storage.
Zoning of the former school, which is in a residential area, would need to change to a light commercial zone for completion of the sale.
If the Planning Board approves a change in the town ordinance, it will come before voters at the June town meeting.
With no decision on what to do with the property the past few years and a recommendation from the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments, the board agreed in December to put it back out to bid in hopes of getting it back on the tax rolls. This time there were no stipulations on the potential use of it.
Wells submitted his bid by the Jan. 20 deadline, Barbara Vining, assistant town manager, said Wednesday.
A retired Air Force officer who works for himself as a general contractor, Wells said he spent a good part of 20 years as a fighter pilot defending oil fields in Saudi Arabia. Now he operates his tractors and a good sized excavator with his own “home-brewed” biodiesel fuel.
He hopes to expand his home production to the primary school site producing the fuel for himself and local farmers, he said Wednesday.
Production is based on as much used cooking oil as can be brought in from area restaurants, schools or any place that serves fried foods. Many places pay someone to take it away for use in dog food production, he said.
“It’s a truly renewable resource,” he said of the waste product. “Instead of using oil from the Middle East, it’s oil from local restaurants.”
There is also a byproduct from the production, a glycerol that makes a great detergent. It’s used in many refined hand soaps and really cuts the grease, he said.
He became interested after a family member learned about the chemical reactions needed to make biodiesel in a chemistry class at Mt. Blue High School. It’s a process that mixes methanol, used vegetable oil and lye to create the fuel for anything that uses diesel fuel, he said.
Production at the old school site he expects would only be done three, maybe four times a week. There’s a lot of waiting time during the process where the ingredients are mixed and heated to 130 degrees, he said.
Selectman Scott Taylor inquired about safety of working with the fuel.
“It’s no more dangerous than pouring gasoline into a lawn mower,” Wells told the board. He encouraged online research that shows a trend toward small, home production of biodiesel.
It is a flammable liquid and care is needed for handling and storage, he said Wednesday. It’s a product best used in the summer as it begins to gel in cold temperatures. While used, the biodiesel can emit the odor of French fries, he said.
A few changes to the property, including the addition of garage doors, are expected for the agricultural machinery storage and maintenance. Those changes won’t disturb any asbestos pipes or tiles, a costly issue that has affected previous plans for the property.
Wells would like to begin producing and looking for customers as soon as the zoning change is approved.
He sees it as a win-win situation. The town finally has a solution to the property inherited from Regional School Unit 9 while an alternative fuel is produced here from a local waste product.