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PENTUCKET

$6m in low-interest aid to help upgrade schools

Improved energy efficiency is the goal

By John Laidler
Globe Correspondent / September 11, 2011

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The Pentucket Regional School District has received a state award of nearly $6 million in low-interest federal financing for green building improvements, expected to reduce energy use by 20 percent at four of its schools.

The district, which serves Groveland, Merrimac, and West Newbury, will get $5.94 million in financing for initiatives to upgrade energy efficiency at the Dr. Elmer S. Bagnall Elementary School in Groveland; the Dr. John C. Page School in West Newbury; and the Dr. Frederick N. Sweetsir and Helen R. Donaghue schools in Merrimac.

“The communities are very pleased with it,’’ said Christine Reading of West Newbury, chairwoman of the Pentucket Regional School Committee. “Given the economy right now, anything that can save on interest is a good thing.’’

Pentucket received the largest share of the $16 million in financing awarded by the state to eight recipients to support energy efficiency or renewable energy projects.

The state will issue federal Qualified Energy Conservation Bonds for those projects, drawn from an allotment of those bonds it received through the 2009 federal stimulus law. Purchasers of the bond receive federal tax credits in lieu of traditional interest payments, allowing the borrower to obtain zero or very low interest financing - in the case of the Pentucket projects, about 1.5 percent.

The state’s Department of Energy Resources and Executive Office of Administration and Finance are providing the bond allocations, and MassDevelopment, the state’s finance and development authority, is issuing the bonds.

The federal bond award is the second financial award the state has provided for the Pentucket projects.

The Massachusetts School Building Authority previously agreed to provide Pentucket with 51.42 percent reimbursement for the cost of the four projects under its one-time Green Repair Program, which provides grants to help districts fund roof, window, and boiler upgrades that improve energy efficiency.

Pentucket’s three towns, which are responsible for the cost of the building projects at their respective schools, will use the federal bond in meeting their shares of the project costs.

The green repair projects involve replacement of boilers, windows, doors, and roofs at the Bagnall, Page, and Sweetsir schools, and roof replacement at the Donaghue school.

According to building authority data, the total estimated cost of the four projects is $8.6 million.

Contractors are in place for all four projects, and work is underway.

“It’s exciting,’’ Reading said, adding, however, “It’s a bit overwhelming for the central office, because they have four individual projects going at the same time.

“The green repairs are a good step to bring the buildings up to what they should be regarding energy conservation,’’ Reading said, adding, “The towns wouldn’t necessarily have the money to do this on their own.’’

In the case of the Bagnall and Page schools, the green improvements are being coupled with larger renovations for those buildings, both of which are in design.

The Bagnall renovation - also an expansion - calls for construction of a new, larger gym; a new, larger cafeteria/kitchen; a new science room; a new entranceway; upgrades to the fire alarm system; and replacement of a water line.

Groveland voters this past April authorized $5.1 million for the renovation and expansion and at the annual town election in May approved a debt exclusion, or temporary tax increase, to fund the cost. The annual Town Meeting also authorized the full $2.4 million for the green repairs.

The town is tapping $187,800 from its stabilization fund to reduce the borrowing amount for the green repairs.

“It’s an excellent project,’’ Kim Jackson, vice chairman of the town’s Bagnall building committee, said of the green repairs. “It will improve the building dramatically and the town is benefiting from having to pay only half the cost’’ and low interest on its share. “That’s less money out of the taxpayer’s pocket.’’

Jackson said the building’s two old boilers have been removed, and piping is now being put in place for the new boilers, which are due to be in operation by Oct. 15. The roofing contractor, meanwhile, is set to begin in the next week and the installation of windows and doors should begin next month.

All of the new facilities being installed will cut energy use, Jackson said, noting for example, that the new roof will have thicker insulation to reduce heat loss.

The larger renovation and expansion of the Bagnall is set to begin next spring.

West Newbury voters last fall appropriated $10 million to fund the renovation of the Page building and the green repairs, with are estimated to cost $3.1 million.

Reading, who sits on the Page building committee, said that “everyone is excited about the changes and improvements’’ that the green repair work will bring.

“The Page School is a very old building,’’ she said. “It has the original roof, which has a lot of leakage problems. The boiler is very old, and the windows as well,’’ she said. The larger renovation project, set to begin next spring, will include construction of a new gym and conversion of the existing gym into a new cafeteria.

Merrimac finance director Carol McLeod said her town is thankful for the efforts of the Pentucket district staff in securing the federal financing, which she estimated could save Merrimac up to $600,000 in borrowing costs.

“These projects are definitely needed, and we just couldn’t find another way to do it,’’ said McLeod, referring to the combined support the town is receiving through the low-cost financing and the state grant.