Oxford voters to act on biomass project funding next month

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OXFORD – Voters will be asked May 11 to decide whether the Oxford Hills School District should secure a bond to pay for a nearly $2 million biomass boiler project at the high school.

The school district Board of Directors voted unanimously Monday to set the date for the referendum, which will ask voters to allow the school department to try to secure financing for the project.

Earlier this month, the Oxford Hills School District was awarded $750,000 by the state Department of Conservation to install a biomass furnace at the high school in Paris. Officials are now eying a no-interest bond to pay for the remainder of the project, which is expected to begin saving the district as much as $120,000 a year in fuel.

If the district is successful in securing the bond, it will save about $600,000 over the financing period, Superintendent Mark Eastman said Wednesday. Repayment of the bond will be covered by the energy savings, in addition to yielding significant long-term savings.

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Eastman said he requested the May referendum date even though the townwide elections are being held a month later in June, because it was necessary to get a jump on the project and its financing.

“We’re trying to access a pool of interest-free bond dollars there’s going to be a lot of competition for,” Eastman said.

Additionally, Eastman said the sooner the financing is in place, the sooner the boiler can be ordered.

“We can get a long lead time on the boiler,” he said of the project that he hopes will be installed by the next heating system.

A public hearing will be held on the referendum question May 3, beginning at 6:30 p.m. at the high school on Route 26.

The project will include a wood chip storage unit inside an existing building at the high school and an extension of the boiler room to accommodate the boiler.

The proposed conversion project from oil to wood chips was planned to address escalating fuel costs and to make the district more energy independent by reducing dependence on foreign oil sources, Eastman said.

Officials say the project will reduce the consumption of fossil fuel by as much as 90 percent of current usage. It will also reduce production of greenhouse gases.

ldixon@sunjournal.com

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