Voters approve district budget, but more expenses may be coming for Foster-Glocester schools

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t took a little over a half hour for voters to approve the upcoming budget presented by the Foster Glocester Regional School Committee. NRI NOW photo by Dick Martin

GLOCESTER – The annual financial town meeting for Foster-Glocester Regional Schools’ budget took a little over a half hour before it was approved by a majority of the 56 voters in attendance. The vote was 45 in favor, with only 11 opposed. But school officials said there are more expenses on the horizon in terms of capital improvements.

According to the budget passed Tuesday night, local funding for the upcoming year totals $17,749,923, a 2.76 percent or $477,532 increase over last year’s two-town appropriation. The town of Foster will cover $41,582 of that increase, while Glocester bears the bulk at $435,949. An increase in state aid of $81,913 is also expected, for a total of $5,672,596 from that source. 

The budget also calls for tuition revenue of $4,080,000, although that is expected to decrease in the future as other districts provide similar programs offered at the regional schools, thereby reducing the population seeking programs offered in Foster-Glocester.

Salary makes up the largest part of the expenses, with an increase totaling $610,688, including a 2.5 percent increase for certified teachers and a 3 percent increase for educational support personnel. Salaries total $15,742,844.

Capital improvements are another major expense, totaling $300,000 to sustain and improve facilities throughout the district. Those improvements are devoted largely to health and safety items, according to a report presented Tuesday. That includes the security system, the fire suppression sprinkler system and the supplemental funding of the dust collection system for the Construction and Manufacturing Program, among other items.

Only two residents took the opportunity to speak during the meeting. One of those was Town Councilor Walter Steere, who questioned the increase in heating oil for the upcoming year, and the decrease in wood chips for the biomass boilers. The schools budgeted $100,000 for fuel oil in the previous year, but spent $174,399. The upcoming request is for $220,000. As it turns out, the biomass wood chip boilers were no longer functional, explained Committee Chairwoman Shelly Pezza.

“A large part of that is the biomass is no longer operational,” said Pezza.

“Neither one of them has run this winter,” explained Steve Essex, facilities manager. “They are in need of hundreds of thousands of dollars in repairs.”

Steere questioned why, if the bio/mass boilers were not functional, there was a line item of $21,781 for wood chips for the new budget, and if the boilers were going to be repaired.

“Now, if it’s not working, first of all, how do you plan to fix it?” asked Steere, noting there was no mention of boilers in upcoming capital projects. “Is that being proposed, or what is happening next?”

“Unfortunately, it’s not in the capital project plan at this point, because it needs so much money,” responded Pezza.

Essex explained that the district is currently working with the state to help find a way to address the problem.

“We’re actively working to figure out what direction we want to go,” he said. “Whether it is worth fixing the biomasses or not, or figuring out different supplemental heating with entirely different new systems.”

Committee member Brendan Mara said the bio/mass boilers have worked well over the years, but are in need of replacement.

“It’s served its time very well,” he said. “It was a novel system when it was introduced, but what we’re facing is the cost of replacement parts is astronomically high.”

Additionally, people who have the knowledge and expertise to work on the novel boilers are few and far between, the group noted. As a result, the district is now working with the state to try to find a grant that will help pay for a more energy efficient system. Once they have that, school officials said they will present the plan to both towns for consideration as part of a long term capital improvement plan.

The wood chip biomass boilers were installed in in 2007 and 2009 at the middle school and high school respectively at a cost of $5,167,569 to the town. The system was the first of its kind in the state, using a high efficient boiler burning wood chips to supplement the main heating system.

Currently, one fuel oil boiler serves both buildings at the high school.

“What’s the plan if that gives out, especially during winter?” asked Steere. “Are we looking to put new boilers in? If we are, it should be budgeted.”

“That would blow up the entire budget,” responded Mara. “That would be a larger ask for the community as a whole.”

“That’s why we are actively working with the RI Infrastructure Bank, the State Energy Office, and RIDE with all their new incentive monies for energy enhancement, so we can meet all these new carbon footprint requirements through the state,” Mara said. “We’re on all the project priority lists in the state to actively try to come up with the best solutions for our heating and HVAC needs throughout the buildings.”

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1 COMMENT

  1. Unfortunately the biomass burner system was not the one initially recommended by the building subcommittee in 2006. A much more expensive, gold plated, with all the bells and whistles system was installed and not properly maintained (no flue cleaning) resulting in a premature failure. The manufacturer went bankrupt years ago, thus no parts. The system should have lasted 30 years, not 15 years. One can only guess what unproven system will be installed a few years from now.

    Remember how they located the biomass (chip) storage area at the bottom of a ramp where rainwater flowed to?

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