The Elk Lake School District completed its conversion to natural gas Saturday, and students returned Monday to comfortably heated classrooms in spite of the frigid temperatures outside.
Superintendent Ken Cuomo led a tour Tuesday of the large boiler room located in the elementary building, which includes an impressive array of brand new pumps, boilers, and an intricate weave of white pipes, to celebrate the switch to gas heat as well as hot water. The boiler room thrummed with activity: there was no ribbon to cut or switch to pull, as the system had been continuously in use since Saturday afternoon.
Maintenance director Kevin Jones said that work commenced last May, with the removal of univents and construction of the boiler room in the elementary school, and intensified over the summer vacation. The energy savings program,engineered by Johnson Control, required extensive renovation of the campus buildings, and the first day of school was scheduled for the day after Labor Day to allow time for the many energy savings components to be installed in addition to the heating and hot water pipes and fixtures.
Jones said, “The switch-over was all done Saturday, between 8 a.m. and 4:40 p.m.”
“These are very nice boilers,” said Mike German, President and CEO of both Leatherstocking and Corning Natural Gas companies. “They are only operating at ten percent right now, and it’s very comfortable.”
All four of the boilers were operating, two for hot water for the buildings and for the Elk Lake indoor swimming pool, and two to heat the campus. So far, the elementary and secondary wings as well as the aquatic center and the original Susquehanna Career and Technology Center buildings are all heated. Remaining to be turned on is the cafeteria kitchen and the new SCCTC building across the parking lot, but gas service for these buildings should be turned on in a few days.
Cuomo said that fuel costs for the 2014-2015 school year amounted to $338,000 for the Elk Lake schools, and $105,000 for the career center.
For the 2014-2015 school year, fuel costs thus far were approximately $162,000 for Elk Lake, and $139,000 for the SCCTC, Cuomo said.
“Since we had already switched to propane for the school year, we budgeted $262,000 for the Elk Lake side, including the cost of propane and the rental of tanks,” he said.
Converting from fuel oil to propane cost $67,000 for fuel plus another $55,000 for fixed costs, but we will be refunded for the cost of the tanks and for any remaining propane.”
Switching to natural gas should save about $58,000 just this school year, Cuomo said.
“We have projected numbers, since we just converted this weekend, but based on current prices, we should save $110,000 on fuel for the next school year,” he said.
The consortium price for fuel oil, negotiated by the intermediate unit, is $3.08 per gallon.
German drove to the school from Corning, N.Y., and said that it was 14 degrees below zero there this morning. Cuomo said that it was about the same in Elk Lake, but since there was no wind, there was no delay of school starting time. “It is mainly determined by conditions for the children waiting outside for school buses,” he said.
The gas for the school district comes from the Church compressor station, located 2.2 miles from the campus “right in my back yard,” Cuomo said. The utility gas line supplying the campus crosses Cuomo’s property.
German said that the Elk Lake School District property will be the anchor for the Williams line in that area.
“There will be about 20 applications on that route, several farms, a church. Having a big customer makes it worthwhile (to install a utility gas line),” he said. Eventually, service will be offered to Dimock, as Cabot has shown an interest in extending the line to its own office facility on Route 29.
He compared the situation to the Leatherstocking development of gas service to Montrose. “In Bridgewater Township, the Montrose high school and Endless Mountains Health Center were the anchors,” he said. Next, other commercial customers were hooked up, and then houses.
Elk Lake has gas wells on the school campus, but it is not possible to hook up directly to those production wells. “You want it clean, dry, and at a safe pressure,” German explained. “We regulate the pressure at the Church compressor station and remove the impurities.”
Cuomo said he hopes to be a customer for the Leatherstocking gas company. “The line goes past my house, I’d be a fool not to tie in,” he said.
DesRosiers said that with the huge supply of natural gas locally, the price is very low.
German said that he has been in the business since 1976, and that in NEPA and the southern tier of New York, gas was supplied by the Henry Hub in Louisiana. “We used to pay premium price for gas, and now we pay a discounted price,” he said.
The gas coming from the Elk Lake wells is transported by Williams Gathering to the Church compressor station, and Leatherstocking taps into that gas and basically resells it to the school, German said. “The gas powering the pumps and fueling these boilers likely came from right under the school property.”
“In 10 years, we will be able to provide gas to the whole northern tier of Pennsylvania,” German said.