Thanks to a $2.5 million energy and ventilation upgrade at the Telstar complex, students and staff are shivering less and breathing easier as winter sets in and the heating system goes into high gear.

“The building is a lot warmer and more comfortable than ever before,” said Arlynn Hale, lead custodian at the complex.

The project was begun last December, after district voters approved the renovation focused on indoor air quality and energy efficiency at the school, and wrapped up at the beginning of the school year.

Prior to the upgrade, the school still had the original unit ventilators, or univents, that had been installed in each room when the building was constructed nearly 45 years ago.

They had outlived their usefulness, according to SAD 44 buildings and grounds supervisor Ron Deegan, and were overdue for replacement. For years, teachers had compensated for the inefficient ventilation system by opening classroom windows, even in the winter, to let in fresh air.

Replacing the old univents with more efficient units has provided automatic control of carbon dioxide levels and temperature in each room, while allowing for a reduction in the amount of fuel used by the two oil-burning boilers at the complex.

The contractor, Honeywell, also sprayed foam insulation in the walls and above the ceilings, eliminating drafty “cold spots” throughout the building. “There were places where we could see daylight through the cracks,” said Deegan.

The renovation was designed to save electricity as well as oil, with the installation of new, more efficient motors on the boilers’ circulation system and lighting upgrades throughout the school.

“We installed motion sensors in the classrooms so the lights turn off automatically when the rooms are unoccupied,” said Hale.

In the kitchen, hot water is now heated by propane instead of electricity, and new motors on the refrigeration units ensure they are running at peak efficiency. Alarm systems have been installed on the refrigerators and freezers to prevent loss.

“Arlynn and I would both receive a phone message immediately if the refrigerators or freezers went off, the pumps in the boiler room went down, or the flame went out in the boiler,” said Deegan.

Another component of the upgrade was the addition of remote management software that enables both Deegan and Hale to monitor and control the temperature in every room of the complex from anywhere, using laptop computers.

The software allows them to set up the calendar at the beginning of the school year, entering the known dates and times when the school would be unoccupied, such as nights, weekends, and vacation periods, but also permits them to update the schedule at any time.

This allows the flexibility to turn up the heat in the library for an evening meeting, or set the temperature in the entire building lower if school is dismissed early in case of a storm.

Prior to the upgrade, the heating system was controlled solely by Honeywell, and couldn’t be adjusted if, for example, an unexpected storm day made it unnecessary to heat the building above the minimum temperature of 65 degrees.

Although some major parts of the work were completed over the summer, Deegan said Honeywell was able to accomplish much of the preliminary work last winter and spring while school was in session.

“They didn’t have to shut down the building,” he said, noting that the work was done during nights, weekends, and school vacations.

Although Deegan won’t know the extent of the savings from the upgrade until the end of the heating season, he said Honeywell’s contract was performance-based and guarantees a reduction in energy usage. The district will also be receiving rebates from Efficiency Maine for the purchase of energy-efficient motors and lights as part of the project.

Anecdotal evidence suggests benefits are being seen from the improvement in air quality as well. Hale said staff members who have routinely suffered from respiratory illnesses as soon as the heating season begins have instead remained healthy this year.

What’s the next step in improving energy efficiency? Deegan said the SAD 44 is looking into biomass technology, hoping to eventually replace fuel oil with either wood chips or pellets.

“Our ultimate goal is to replace 90 percent of the district’s oil usage,” he said.


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