Franklin Countys First News

Selectmen consider connecting Community Center to new UMF heating plant

Farmington Community Center

Selectmen are considering a proposal to connect the Farmington Community Center into UMF's new hot water distribution heat system scheduled for construction this year.

FARMINGTON - Selectmen are considering the possibility of taking up the University of Maine at Farmington's offer to connect the Community Center to its planned central heating plant.

UMF will be presenting its plans to build a 5,000-square-foot biomass boiler plant to heat 28 buildings on campus this year at the planning board's next meeting on Monday, Feb. 9. The plant, which would burn wood chips, is proposed to be located in the parking lot area off Quebec and Perkins streets and behind the community center.

In the meantime, the town of Farmington has been invited to connect into the system since conduit lines will be running right by the Community Center on Middle Street. The estimated cost to connect the center to the plant's hot water distribution loop totals $90,000.

Thomas Perkins of Dirigo Architectural Engineering LLC based in Turner, is serving as project manager for the new UMF plant. The town could avoid the $10,000 annual cost of oil to heat the center, along with associated maintenance costs of the older heat system at the center, he told selectmen at their meeting Tuesday night.

The system is an underground network of lines circulating water into the plant to be heated then on a return loop back into buildings to radiate warmth.

UMF decided to build the central heat plant system after a natural gas company cast doubt that it was able bring lines in the next year to Farmington as proposed.

In early November 2014, UMF was notified by Summit Natural Gas that the company was unable to commit to providing service to the campus by 2016. The university had been operating under a Notice of Intent, approved by the University of Maine System's Board of Trustees on Jan. 27, 2014, between UMF and Summit Natural Gas to develop a contract to switch several buildings from heating oil to natural gas by 2016. Summit Natural Gas' withdrawal from that agreement left UMF looking for alternate energy solutions for its buildings. Facility improvements associated with the switch have been estimated to cost between $2 million and $4 million, and save UMF $4 million in 10 years.

If the town pays the connection cost of $90,000 payback would be realized in 7.6 years at the current oil price of $2.25 per gallon, according to Perkins. He noted the most recent drop in oil prices is "a small blip" with it likely prices will go up again. "We're forging ahead," he said of project.

The Farmington Public Library board of trustees is also considering connecting into UMF's heating system at an estimated cost of $75,000. Lines will be running right past the library towards Merrill Hall and adjacent university buildings. Payback for the library would be seen in 12.1 years.

If all goes according to plans, ground breaking for the plant would start in April and it would be operational by the next heating season.

Perkins said the plant's capacity could accommodate connecting the community center at any time in the future, if selectmen decide to hold off for budgetary reasons.

"The big nut to crack" is to see about getting a loan to pay for it, said Town Manager Richard Davis.

Selectman Joshua Bell said he would be interested in hearing other heat alternatives for the community center such as pellet boiler system. At the same time, selectmen approved the consideration of connecting the community center to UMF's heat plant.

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7 Responses »

  1. This seems worthy of consideration. The existing system is a real museum piece that requires considerable maintenance, replacement will be very expensive regardless of fuel option. This may be a more cost effective solution in the long run, can we tie in the town office as well?

  2. Not sure whether the town or library have factored into the payback time the related reduction on maintenance costs. (Presumably UMF would be covering maintenance of the heating plant.) The unpredictability of the current (antiquated oil) systems and their cost of maintenance should definitely be considered.

    As well, standalone pellet systems in each of the community center and library locations would not be maintenance free, so there are arguments against pellet systems there.

    Consolidating the heat source at UMF seems like a very efficient arrangement. It's an added bonus that the fuel source will be biomass (100% renewables from what would likely be locally sourced wood product).

    I hope this happens!

  3. Would be helpful to nearby residents and tax payers, to hear the pros and cons of large scale bio-mass systems already in operation else where. Obvious question is, what impact would this have on air quality?

  4. This sounds like a great idea. I would be curious to know if the town decides to mate up with the biomass boiler or go with pellets, will they be using locally produced fuel: Farmington Chip Plant or the pellet mill in Strong.

    I would like to hear more qualifiying statements from Thomas Perkins in regards to his conjecture about how long this dip in oil prices will last. Here is the view from the other side...

    @Mike: That museum piece was ready for retirement 5 years ago!

  5. Good Idea...Poor Location....
    Things to consider :
    Noise levels, dust, tractor trailer delivery trucks, student safety, smoke, smokestack, building aesthetics, etc.
    All this, right in the middle of the campus. Check out Colby College, their biomass facility is located away from the academic and living areas of their campus.
    Consider the property behind the UMF facilities building next to the Farmington town ?
    Consider the Fair Grounds ?
    Good Idea....Poor Location....

  6. Well,, here we all are "chasing fuels"..
    Wonder what Las Vegas says about which fuel type wins?

    We're going back Jack Do It Again,,,Wheel turning round and round..........

    No matter what you do NOW,,,,within a 5 year cycle (at some point) it'll look like the wrong decision..
    That's the "Game" we are forced to play while "lots of money changes hands (from ours to theirs..ha).

    Why are we all so concerned anyways,,Global Warming will cut our heating costs dramatically very very soon...right?

    Before you accuse me of having no solution,, I'm wearing a snowmobile suit 24/7 for the next few months.
    Insulate !!!!