Wood heat boosts local facilities

By Jay Braman Jr.
A long time ago, heating schoolhouses was a big chore. The small buildings, many of which still exist, all had a wood stove and, every day in the colder months, one lucky student was assigned the job of keeping the fire going. The burning wood kept everyone warm enough, just barely, to concentrate on the three Rs.
In those days wood heat may have been the only option, and the small cottage-like structures were much easier to heat than the present day monoliths that are the centralized schools in the region.
But now that notion is being challenged. As big as they are, some believe that heating the brick and concrete buildings with wood might be a better way to go.
Under a plan by the Watershed Agricultural Council (WAC), two local schools will take part in a feasibility study to evaluate heating their middle and senior high school facilities with wood chips.
“Making the switch to wood can be a cost-effective solution for many larger facilities with tight operating budgets,” states Collin Miller, a wood utilization specialist with the WAC. The middle and senior high school facilities in the Cairo-Durham and Onteora districts were among five regional facilities in three counties selected to be part of the feasibility study through the WAC. In addition to the local schools, Catskill Craftsmen in Stamford, O’Connor Hospital in Delhi and South Kortright Central School, all in Delaware County, will be included in the study.
Miller, who said a recent study completed for a North Country school showed preliminary cost savings of $170,000 in the first year after converting 85 percent of heating needs to wood-chips, noted that the initiative follows in the footsteps of other efforts underway in New York and neighboring states like Vermont, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania where public schools, hospitals and similar facilities are making the switch to locally grown, carbon-neutral fuels.
The total project costs for the studies at each facility will be $23,000, according to Miller.
The studies will be completed over the next several weeks. Findings will be presented in May.