Elk Lake begins conversion to gas

BY PAT FARNELLI

The Elk Lake School campus, including the Susquehanna County Career and Technology Center, will soon begin the construction and renovation process to switch all buildings to natural gas power.

At the school board meeting Thursday, the board approved finalizing agreements for the energy project, designed by Johnson Controls Inc.

The board also approved a final agreement with bond company Robert W. Baird to lock in the very favorable interest rates for the energy project. The bond issue, totaling about $5,063,000 in general obligation bonds, has an average interest rate of 3.39 percent for the entire issue, but some are discount bonds, said Les Bear, bond agent.

“We can advance refund this issue if interest rates become lower than they are currently, although that’s hard to imagine,” Bear said.

He said the district received an A+ rating with the Standard & Poors index, as well as 15+ basis points.

Board member Arden Tewksbury noted that the pay-off date has been moved up from 20 years to 16 years from now, which he called “smart business.”
The closing for the bond issue will be held on Mar. 25, at which time the funds will become available.

The capital contribution from the school district is for a total of $702,120, up from a previous $596,000 estimated outlay. The savings for the energy project will begin at $198,000 per year after the conversion to natural gas and should climb to $500,000 per year, Johnson Controls rep Nick Sracic said.

“All savings will be converted to bond payments for the first 16 years,” Sracic said. “You will end up $2.9 million ahead by the completion of the project in 2029, and the new energy equipment will outlast the project by a long shot.”

The whole campus will be converted to natural gas, there will be “no more dungeon” (boiler room) in the secondary school building, and on the academic front, “there will be a much better environment for your kids, with much more comfortable classrooms.”

Sracic said that contractors are already mobilized. The heaviest presence during the school year will be during second shift hours from late April into May.

During summer vacation, work will be ongoing, at least full-time every day, readying the secondary school classrooms for the opening of school with heat available by October.

The estimates for the project include a formula to factor in possible escalation rates for future costs of fuel.

In other business, the NEIU special education contract was approved; as well as a termination of a contract with Advanced Academics, which has been bought out by another provider. Those contracted services will continue. Special Education director Pam Staats said that the NEIU extended school year program will be held this summer in the elementary school building due to planned construction.

The administrators agreed that the school has been taking a beating from weather on Wednesdays in particular. Elk Lake dismisses one hour early on Wednesdays, and a two hour delay further shortens the day. However, there have been no two hour delays on Wednesdays, only school closings.

Superintendent Bill Bush praised Dr. Ken Cuomo for his judgment calls for weather. “Great job, calling snow days,” he said. “The bottom line is that everyone is safe.”

Bush said that he has heard from several other districts that there is interest in having a sports arena or dome for major public school sports events. Several other districts have pledged $500 toward a feasibility study for such a facility.

Secondary school principal Brian Mallery announced that the spring play will be “Ditch Day” by Eugene Kelly.