The Bethlehem Area School Board is preparing to bite the bullet during difficult financial times and commit to a half-million dollar replacement of boilers at Nitschmann Middle School.
Six board members were convinced of the need for replacement by Arif Fazil, the district’s engineer, during the board Facilities Committee meeting on Monday night.
The district had hoped to extend the life of two 53-year-old boilers on the west side of the building with $40,000 in repairs. But a pre-repair inspection revealed that the overhauls would cost $120,000.
And while the repairs could provide an additional five to 10 years of use from these boilers, Fazil said more repairs would be likely during that time frame.
Each of the boilers had to be shut down in the last month for emergency repairs, Fazil said. Should the boilers ultimately fail in winter, the district would be forced to shut the school until replacements, temporary or permanent, could be installed.
Fazil recommended that the board consider installing new high-efficiency gas boilers to replace the deteriorating oil-fired boilers. Adding gas to the boiler room would cost the district an estimated $70,000, but would save it about $30,000 a year in lower heating costs.
He also recommended converting three oil-fired boilers on the east side of the building to gas to add to the efficiency savings. The total cost of the project was estimated at $552,000.
Overall, Fazil said converting to gas and replacing the boilers would pay for itself in under 10 years, which was the maximum life the board could have expected from the overhauled existing boilers.
Still board members Irene Follweiler and Benjamin Tenaglia voted in favor of doing nothing for the time being. Loretta Leeson, Michelle Cann, Rosario Amato, William Burkhardt, Michael Faccinetto and Eugene McKeon all agreed that the boilers should be replaced. The item will be on the agenda for the board’s next regular meeting on March 21.
The project will be paid for partially out of existing unspent capital improvement bond proceeds. However, the district will also defer some projects it had planned to undertake, including purchasing an emergency generator for Asa Packer Elementary School and roof repairs at Spring Garden Elementary School’s gym and the SPARK Early Childhood Center, which the district is now thinking about closing.
The Nitschmann boilers have long been a source of concern for district facilities managers. However, there had also been some prevailing wisdom that significant investments should wait until the district is ready to perform a major renovation or reconstruction on what is now the oldest of its four middle schools.
If the board approves the project at its next board meeting, the building’s heating system will get its overhaul over the summer.