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Kenmare School to consider electric heat

The Kenmare school district took another step toward converting the high school building from a coal-fired to an electric-fired boiler heating system when members of the Building Committee met with representatives of Obermiller Nelson Engineering of Fargo last Wednesday.

10/03/12 (Wed)

By Caroline Downs

The Kenmare school district took another step toward converting the high school building from a coal-fired to an electric-fired boiler heating system when members of the Building Committee met with representatives of Obermiller Nelson Engineering of Fargo last Wednesday.

Jim Nelson, production principal and mechanical engineer, and Andy Bartsch, electrical engineer, spent a couple hours at Kenmare High School that day, discussing the current heating system and the district’s plans for a change. They also toured the building with custodian Jerry Mickelsen and examined the coal-fired boiler now in use.

Building Committee chairman Lenny Rodin explained the school board’s desire to change to an electric system at the high school, following the successful transition from coal-to-electric at the elementary school last year. “It’s worked well for us there,” he said.

However, with a more complicated heating system in place at the high school, the Building Committee realized they needed assistance in planning a similar project for the high school, which would also include heat for the bus barn and the greenhouse.

Bartsch and Nelson asked several questions about electrical rates currently paid by the district, the age and condition of the coal-fired system, condition of the ductwork, and plans for a new system.

Rodin noted that in discussions with representatives of MDU, the utilities company believes they may have to make some upgrades of their own if the school proceeds with plans for electric heat. “They think they will have to redo their substation east of town to handle this,” Rodin said, adding such a project might involve up to nine months of lead time for planning and ordering materials.

Rodin and committee members Doug Miller and Michele Nelson also talked about the district’s preliminary plans for an approximately 35,000 square foot addition to the high school building. “We want to have some forward thinking,” Rodin said.

As Mickelsen described the current system for the high school, he said two oil-burning boilers were installed when the building was constructed in 1970, with one of those boilers converted to coal before he started working for the school district 28 years ago

The two engineers seemed surprised the school district wanted to use a more expensive form of energy, but business manager Renae Murphy said coal created problems at times. “We know this is a little more expensive, but you don’t have the breakdowns with electric like you do with coal,” she said. “And then there’s been the issue of finding a provider in the last couple of years.”

“The boiler now is pretty much maxed out,” Mickelsen said. “If I can’t use Wyoming coal, I can’t keep it running [efficiently].”

Nelson and Bartsch emphasized several times the project cost would depend on the electricity rates charged by MDU, with Bartsch suggesting some type of system that generated heat during off-peak hours and stored it for school hours might be best for the district.

“Electricity is a more expensive option,” Nelson repeated. “It all depends on the rate you get [from MDU], and it depends on the amount of equipment you have to install.”

He and Bartsch also talked about the advantages of installing an electric-fired boiler with another type of system for backup heat during periods when the electrical rates are higher. “When we’re looking at some of these schools, we’ll find it makes sense economically to put in a small fuel oil boiler or propane boiler to make up the difference,” Bartsch said.

When Nelson and Bartsch returned from their tour of the facility, they noted the current boiler room would have plenty of space to accommodate the equipment necessary for the change to electric heat.

The two engineers asked for copies of the mechanical and electrical drawings for the original and renovated portions of the building. They said they would send a complete report with recommendations and preliminary costs to Superintendent Duane Mueller before the October 16th school board meeting.

“I think we’ll look at a primary electric boiler with a smaller supplemental propane or fuel oil boiler,” Bartsch said, “with another option for an electric boiler with a heat sink.”

The engineers also promised to consider other issues related to heating in the school, including insulation in the entry ways, thermostat control in the exterior and interior classrooms around the library, and heat balance in those classrooms.

Committee members looked forward to receiving the report and recommendations, with Rodin saying the district wanted to bid the project for work during the summer of 2013.

“I think there’s an opportunity for a contractor to start in the spring,” Nelson said.

In Other Discussion:
•Superintendent Mueller announced the new marquee sign should be installed at the high school by the end of September.

•Mueller reported the water-logged crawl space beneath several classrooms at the high school had been pressure-washed by SERVPRO. “They will sanitize it now and put dryers down there,” he said. “They say that will take about a week.” He noted cost of the cleaning would be about $20,000. Representatives from Innovative Basement Systems would be visiting the school October 2nd to determine the cause for the long-time water problems in that space.

•Mueller and Murphy reported they found paperwork on file about the ceiling tiles installed in the commons, office, entry way and locker room areas that indicated an asbestos content of greater than 1 percent, which would require professional asbestos abatement for removal rather than work proposed by Rob Wittman Construction. “We’re going to have someone come in tomorrow and take three to five samples,” Mueller said. “That way, we’ll have a 2012 report to let us know what we’re going to do.”

If the ceiling tiles are found to have 1 percent asbestos content or less, professional asbestos abatement is not needed for removal of those tiles, and the district can proceed with a tile removal and replacement project by Wittman.

•Committee members discussed installation of the Mobius Climber playground equipment at the high school, with Miller saying he would have time to do the necessary concrete work sometime after the next two weeks. Once the concrete was finished, Miller and Rodin expected to have enough parent volunteer help to set up the equipment for student use. Cost of hiring the work done by Dakota Fence would be $3400.