On Monday evening, January 1, school officials announced a two-hour late start on Tuesday morning, students’ first day back from winter vacation. But on Tuesday morning, staff arrived to find the school’s woodchip boiler swimming in three feet of water. School was canceled for Tuesday.
According to Whitingham board member Seth Boyd, the school has two heating systems. The main system is a woodchip-fired boiler located in an outbuilding next to the school. The school also has three 17-year-old oil-fired boilers, which are used as backup heating and for hot water during summer months.
On Friday, Boyd said, an electric motor that operates the woodchip conveyor feeding the boiler failed. “That meant no heat in the woodchip boiler building for the weekend, and the plumbing and sprinkler system in the woodchip boiler building froze.”
The frozen pipes burst, and water filled the woodchip boiler building to a depth of about three feet, according to Twin Valley Middle High School Principal Tom Fitzgerald. The water was high enough to submerge some of the woodchip boiler’s electrical parts. Whitingham town employees pumped the water out of the building, and Codogni Plumbing was called in to begin repairs.
The backup boilers are maintaining heat and hot water in the building, but Boyd said the 17-year-old system is stressed, and working with only one good boiler, and a second that is not at 100% operation. Noting that the board planned to replace one of the boilers in the next fiscal year, Boyd suggested the emergency replacement of at least one boiler now. “Really, we’re operating with about one-and-a-half boilers now,” he said. “With the woodchip boiler down for a couple of weeks at least, I think we need to get at least one of those boilers replaced now to give us a cushion.”
Fitzgerald said the heat in the building using the backup system was at about 64 to 66 degrees in classrooms, although it was colder in some offices.
Responding to a question from TVSB Chair Sharon Berry, Boyd said a rough cost estimate for the replacement of an oil-fired boiler was $34,000. Board members approved the emergency replacement of the boiler.