EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

June 28, 2013

Methuen schools ask Council to OK contract with Ameresco

By Douglas Moser

---- — METHUEN — School officials are urging the City Council to contract with an environmental services company to make energy efficiency upgrades to city and school buildings.

Superintendent Judith Scannell wrote a letter, with the backing of the School Committee, to the Council Wednesday outlining some of the work that would be done to upgrade heating and lighting systems and to repair and improve the nearly four-decade-old ice rink.

“Other capital investments will allow us to benefit system-wide from projects that are currently outside the school department’s ability to pay for,” she said. “The sooner these projects are completed, the sooner we’ll reduce our reliance on expensive energy. Not only will we save considerable money on utility expenses for a long time, we will immediately be able to provide our students, staff, and ice skaters the comfort and security of more reliable energy systems.”

Ameresco, an energy service company based in Framingham, conducted an energy audit of Methuen — both city and school buildings — and created a list of upgrades to reduce the energy costs of the buildings. A contract would require Methuen to come up with $3.5 million, likely through bonds, to pay for the services and materials.

Officials from Ameresco and from energy consulting company Peregrine Energy Group told councilors and School Committee members at a joint meeting in March that the borrowing would be paid for using savings from reduced energy spending and would not impact the tax rate.

Ameresco would complete all the projects over about 18 months.

While several councilors seemed agreeable of the idea, they were hesitant to fully support the idea until a contract was drawn up.

Mayor Stephen Zanni said he is at work on a contract and plans to request a special meeting of the City Council next month to review the proposal and possibly vote on approval.

“The council was divided on that issue, so thought it’s best to have it as the single item on agenda,” Zanni said.

Upgrades to the ice rink include replacing the leaky roof, upgrading the dehumidifying system and installing a ceiling called “low-e,” which is designed to reflect much less radiant energy back into the rink and onto the ice.

Bruce Stella, facilities manager for the School Department, said the leaking roof is a safety issue.

“The roof is in tough shape,” he said. “It’s the original roof and it’s failing in a few places over the surface. When it leaks, it puts holes in the ice.”

He estimated the cost of those improvements to the rink at about $1.2 million. Those improvements together would allow the School Department to keep the rink open longer.

Aside from the rink, the Quinn Building, which houses the school administration and the police department, would get new natural gas boilers to replace the 50-plus-year-old oil boilers, and all four grammar schools would get lighting system improvements, weatherization and an energy management system that could be accessed and controlled remotely by computer.

City Hall, the water treatment plant and the Lowell Street fire station would also receive new lighting and energy management systems, and weatherization. A boiler and chiller would be installed in City Hall, housed in the 19th century-era Searles Building.

School Committee members on Monday said they supported contracting with Ameresco, saying the project list can be a sort of substitute for a capital improvement plan, which the School Department does not have.

Last month, North Andover approved a roughly $4 million contract with Ameresco at Town Meeting. A similar proposal failed the previous year.

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