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SAD 41 selects firm for Penquis Valley energy efficiency upgrades

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MILO — The SAD 41 school board approved Honeywell — which has worked at the Penquis Valley School for several decades — to carry out work to make the complex more energy efficient. Honeywell was chosen during a Nov. 15 meeting, and the firm is scheduled to bring forward a scope of services for the directors to vote on when they meet next on Wednesday, Dec. 6.

Last month Superintendent Michael Wright was authorized to seek request for qualifications to help the district implement a $2.1 million quality zone academy bond (QZAB) from the U.S. Department of Education. QZAB funds have a 0 percent interest rate with the principal to be paid back in 25 years. Ideas discussed on how to utilize the funds have included converting the heating system at Penquis Valley from steam to hot water and making other energy-efficient upgrades.

He said a committee comprised of himself, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Kelley Weiss, Head of Buildings and Grounds Donnie Richards, Brownville Elementary Principal Carol Smith and board member Stacie Martin met with representatives from both Honeywell and Siemens.

“We thought they both did a good job, but it was hard for Siemens to overcome [Honeywell’s] three decades of working here and knowing the people,” Wright said. He said on Dec. 6 the selected firm “would come back to you with a plan for what the financials would look like.”

In October the school board heard a presentation from Jim Lucy of Honeywell. Lucy discussed the concept of performance contracting, with a project design, construction and ensuing operation and maintenance all handled by one firm as opposed to three different outfits.

He said energy performance contracting would be comprised of one firm conducting an audit of the premises, finding energy savings — to help offset project costs over time — and then the future operational costs for the various systems.

Lucy identified the primary need at Penquis Valley being a steam to hot water conversion. He said the air and ventilation systems are also in need of upgrades and some building windows should be replaced.

Project construction could take nine to 12 months, including some work being done over the summer.

“This building is likely to be used anyway, you have a middle school,” Wright said, as the board also discussed a presentation made during the October meeting about a comprehensive high school being pursed by SAD 4 of Guilford and the Dexter-based SAD 46.

Earlier in the year the application by SAD 4 and 46 was announced as one of three finalists to move forward to complete part two of the application for an Integrated, Consolidated 9-16 Education Facility pilot project. The other two finalists are based in and around Fort Kent and Madawaska as well as in Houlton and the surrounding school districts.

The institution would be funded by the state to serve as a model for the rest of Maine. The comprehensive high school would offer a variety academic programs, from high school to college, and trainings and certifications in various industries.

Wright said initially neither the two school districts nor SAD 41 approached the other. “Logistically we thought that it was unrealistic,” he said.

“We send about 30 kids every other day to (the Tri-County Technical Center in) Dexter, would it be realistic to send every kid every day to Dexter?,” the superintendent said.

If funding for the comprehensive high school is awarded then the location is still to be determined, with the Maine Department of Education assisting in this process.

The next phase of the application is due by the end of December, and there is still time for SAD 41 to join.

“What I’m told is SAD 41 getting involved would certainly help their application to the state,” Wright said.

Last month both SAD 4 Interim Superintendent Ray Freve and SAD 46 Superintendent Kevin Jordan said willingness by SAD 41 to take part in the application process does not formally bind the district to anything more.

“This doesn’t commit us to anything,” SAD 41 board member Denise Hamlin said during the discussion. She later added, “If we agree we have a voice at the table.”

Board member Christine Hamlin said she liked the fact the comprehensive high school would offer college classes. “We have a lot of kids here growing up in a small town who are nervous about going to college,” she said.

Martin said her younger son is a junior so he will have graduate before the comprehensive high school would open, but she likes the fact students would be able to only take a single vocational course if they so choose. “My worry as a small school is if we don’t do it, we will fall behind,” she said.

Board member Bryan Boyce said he was unsure of how the school would impact the SAD 41 budget. “With the way the economy is in just our area, it would be stupid not to look into it,” he said.

“Because we are under a budget constraint, there are some opportunities we are not able to give our students,” Christine Hamlin said.

Wright said SAD 4 and 46 would need to know SAD 41’s decision prior to the late December deadline. He suggest the directors make a formal decision at the Dec. 6 meeting.

In the meantime, the school board passed a motion to send a letter of support and a request for more information on the project.

“I think the commitment would be if we signed on the application,” Wright said.

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