Energy Upgrades in Schools Could Surpass $30 Million

June 12, 2023
The plans to move the Bedford Public School building towards energy net zero extends over a 15 year span and tens of millions of dollars. Photo: Robert Dorer

Bedford Town officials are projecting expenses that could total more than $30 million, spread over several years, to pursue the goal of converting the four schoolhouses to energy net zero.

The most recent six-year capital plan targets the first step for fiscal year 2025: an allocation of $320,000 to replace the hot-water heaters at Bedford High School. Replacement of the Davis School roof, with a current estimated cost of $1,648,000, is inserted into Fiscal Year 2026.

One year later, the total exceeds $4 million, then surpasses $6.5 million in Fiscal Year 2028.

Taissir Alani, Director of Facilities for the schools and town, recently summarized the projects as part of a short- and long-range capital spending presentation to the School Committee.

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“The cost really is a placeholder because as we get closer to the project, we reassess the cost and equipment,” Alani said in a recent interview.

And Amy Fidalgo, Assistant Town Manager for Operations, stressed that heating, ventilation, and roof replacements are likely to be “moved out to further years in the next iteration of the capital plan, which will be vetted by the Capital Expenditure Committee in the fall.

“Our ability to move these projects out a few funding cycles is due to excellent preventative maintenance our facilities department is able to perform in order to extend the lifespan of many of these items,” she explained.

Expenses of this magnitude are financed through the sale of municipal bonds. The impact on the taxpayers would be mitigated by the impending retirement of several major bonded projects. 

Alani and his department have developed a 15-year plan “to address the decarbonization and electrification” of municipal and school buildings.

The comprehensive proposal was in response to the Board of Selectmen adopting an energy net zero policy, following a feasibility study in 2019. Energy net zero is when a community balances its energy needs through energy produced with renewable, zero-emission sources.

Indeed, the 15 years began more than three years ago, since the energy plan was designed to coincide with the town’s six-year capital plan. That means the renovation of the police station incorporated the systems that obviate the use of fossil fuels. And the library’s replacement ventilation equipment will be electric, allowing energy to be generated through use of renewables.  That project is currently being bid on by contractors, Alani said.

Alani noted that additions to Davis School and John Glenn Middle School “were designed and constructed to be make-ready energy net zero.” He added that the new fire station also will be built to achieve net zero. “We prepare so that at some point we can go fully electric, with solar and battery storage offsetting the extra cost of electricity,” he explained.

When systems were upgraded in Town Hall a few years ago, he added, “we went almost fully electric and downsized the natural gas to be used from six boilers to one – and that one is only for extra-cold days.”

For each schoolhouse, “as we go through the design of the decarbonization and electrification to achieve energy net zero, the project will be combined with roof solar and storage batteries,” Alani said. 

Most of the work on schools will take place in the boiler and electric rooms, he said. Any renovations in classrooms, such as replacing the current unit ventilators with heating and ventilation equipment compatible with the upgrade, will be scheduled for summers. 

Bedford High School, with an area of 230,000 square feet, will be the first major target for conversion to energy net zero.

That means not only upgrading the three boilers at a projected cost of $4.56 million, currently scheduled for fiscal year 2027, but also replacing the roof and adding solar and storage batteries for $2,575,000 the following fiscal year.

“What you generate from solar and storage will offset the new electrical system,” Alani explained, adding, “And the goal is also to decarbonize, remove any fossil fuel for heating or any other usage.”

Whenever the boiler replacements begin, Alani envisions two years per school: the first year for design, followed by construction.

So, in the most recent six-year plan, design work for replacing three boilers at John Glenn Middle School takes place in fiscal year 2027; the current estimate is $419,056. That’s 10 percent of the $4,190,555 construction cost, earmarked for the following year. The middle school roof replacement ($2,838,680) and classroom ventilator upgrade ($1,860,000) are part of the fiscal year 2029 lineup.

The Lane School roof is projected at $1,648,000 in fiscal year 2029. The boiler replacement is beyond the current six-year plan.

“The storage batteries part of the project may be deferred to the future campus microgrid project, or could be considered as part of the solar. A decision will be made later based on the economics,” Alani said.

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