Gorham Middle School heat pump repair bill grows to $3.1M

Gorham voters will be asked to approve spending $819,900 more in November to cover the upgrade and repair of aging heat pumps in the high school.

Last year, voters authorized the school department to borrow $2.26 million for the project, but that’s below the total amount needed now because of rising costs, officials said. The additional $819,000 is in hand, so no further loan is needed, but voters still need to approve its use.

The November 2 vote referendum “does not ask for additional dollars that would raise taxes. The additional funding comes from additional state grants and an undisclosed fund balance,” Chief Inspector Heather Perry said in an email to the American Journal on Wednesday.

“This is a critical project to complete,” she said.

School officials believed that $2.26 million would solve the heating, air-conditioning and ventilation system problem in the school that opened in 2003. But the bids came in at $472,000 over budget.

The city council, in a special meeting on Aug. 24, authorized the use of $575,000 from the school capital reserve fund and $244,900 from an undesignated fund balance in addition to the $2.26 million in bonds.

Gorham Middle School was the state’s first school to have a geothermal heating system and has 130 heat pumps. The aging pumps are a pain. A heat pump caught fire in 2014 and smoke cleared the building during a parent-teacher conference.

Over 18 years old, the HVAC system, Perry said, is outdated and failing. Three three heat pumps failed last year and four in 2019, Perry said.

“We can’t get replacement heat pumps if they fail and instead have to spend significantly more money to repair these pumps by modifying parts of older units,” said Perry. “If a pump fails, we usually have to spend about $10,000 to get it back up and running, and that’s just to get it up and running, not to improve overall life expectancy or increase/improve efficiency.”

If voters don’t approve the referendum, school officials will be in trouble.

“At some point in the not-too-distant future, if we’re not able to move forward with this project, heat pumps will fail and we won’t be able to repair them,” Perry said. “If that happened, our HVAC system wouldn’t be heating the building properly, and even worse — especially in the time of COVID 19 — our HVAC system wouldn’t be able to properly move the air through the building. to circulate and ventilate the building.”

No one spoke about the referendum during the city council’s public hearing on Tuesday. The school committee chair, Darryl Wright and Perry, was in attendance.

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