EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 15, 2013

School system eyes $3.5 million in energy improvements

By Brian Messenger

---- — METHUEN — A dozen municipal and school buildings would go green, triggering $300,000 in annual savings, under an energy services contract proposal before the City Council.

If approved, the city would borrow about $3.5 million for 55 energy-efficiency improvements to be completed over 18 months. The money would then be recouped through future utility budget savings estimated at $300,000 annually over the next 15 years.

“It’s a good project,” Mayor Stephen Zanni told the City Council earlier this month. “It’s something that will save the city a lot of money.”

City councilors have agreed to hold a workshop on the proposal in the coming weeks. To take on all the projects at once, the city would enter into an energy management services contract with Ameresco.

The Framingham-based company was selected by the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission and has performed similar work for Logan International Airport and the cities of Lowell and Newburyport.

“It’s a great deal,” said Methuen Community Development Director Bill Buckley. “It’s an opportunity to do energy enhancements to our municipal and school buildings without impacting our municipal budget or the tax rate.”

Buckley said the agreement with Ameresco will guarantee that the city recoups the money it borrows. The company will oversee the projects, relieving city employees of the time-consuming tasks of designing, bidding and managing them.

“It allows the city to do more in a short time frame,” said Buckley. “It would take a long time for us to finish 55 separate projects. Ameresco has the resources.”

If the agreement is approved, Buckley said he hopes the projects will begin sometime in 2013.

Ameresco has performed detailed energy audits at a dozen public facilities in Methuen, including City Hall; the Quinn building — which is home to the Police and School departments; the Central Fire Station; water treatment plant; three pump stations; the Marsh, Comprehensive, Tenney and Timony grammar schools; and the Methuen High School ice rink.

The buildings represent just over 875,000 square feet. Baseline data from two years ago shows the facilities required 14 million kilowatt-hours of electricity, 700,000 therms of natural gas and 11,500 gallons of No. 2 fuel oil over the course of 12 months. Altogether, that cost the city $2.75 million. Ameresco has identified 16 different conservation measures to be performed at the facilities, ranging from weatherization improvements, window, roof and boiler replacements, and enhanced lighting and ventilation.

Among the projects under consideration:

Install a new digital energy management system at City Hall and upgrade the systems at the four grammar schools, creating a “seamless interface between systems for the city.”

Replace or upgrade 6,000 light fixtures.

Install weather stripping on doors at all 12 buildings.

Insulate a portion of the attic floor at City Hall, reducing heat loss in winter.

Replace single-pane windows at Marsh Grammar School with thermally efficient replacements

Replace a portion of the ice rink roof, make ceiling improvements and install a dehumidifier

Replace boilers at the Quinn Building and City Hall with high-efficiency replacements

Install software to limit the power used by city and school computers during unoccupied periods

Install sensors so that city and school vending machines will be turned off when rooms are unoccupied

“This investment, however, will not require any up-front capital by the city,” reads a summary of the energy services contract. “The city will achieve these improvements via a performance contract designed to extract energy inefficiencies in the current utility operating budgets to self-fund the project from future energy savings.”

The contract summary was distributed to the City Council on Feb. 4. It appeared to have the support of Chairman Sean Fountain.

“We have a lot of things that need replacing, especially on the school side,” said Fountain. “I think this is a good program.”