Marquette school board OKs steam system upgrades

MARQUETTE — The Marquette Area Public Schools Board of Education on Monday unanimously approved spending $174,405 for steam system upgrades at Marquette Senior High School.

Dressler Mechanical Inc., based in Marquette, will be in charge of the project, which will begin this summer after the conclusion of the school year.

The money is provided through the sinking fund millage approved by voters in 2014. The 10-year levy is not to exceed .95 mill, or 95 cents on each $1,000 of taxable valuation. The sinking fund is for the construction or repair of school buildings and other purposes authorized by law.

Superintendent Bill Saunders gave an overview of the project, which he said involved two years of research.

“This is one of the items we had in our original sinking fund at a dollar amount that when it came time to really look at replacement costs, we didn’t have enough budgeted in our sinking fund to come close to what the high school power plant really needs, which is a complete overhaul of the boiler systems — all new boilers and all new Univents, those machines in the back that are pumping out the heat to us as a building,” Saunders said.

A complete overhaul would have cost approximately $2.5 million, with energy savings estimated at 82 or 83 years to get a payback on the initial investment, he noted.

“It was going to take away from certainly a number of other sinking fund projects that we had because it was so far over budget,” Saunders said.

A “happy medium” was found, he said, to rebuild the boilers, which should provide another 15 to 20 years of operation. Work then would start on other mechanical systems like the feedwater system, which Saunders said also is in dire need of replacement.

“We’re looking at doing some replacement in stages so we can do other projects, like the Bothwell (Middle School) parking lot,” Saunders said. “In the first stage we’d be replacing the feedwater system, some of the valves and retubing those high school boilers.”

There originally were three boilers in the high school, one of which has enough power to provide heat for the entire building, said Saunders, who added that for about the last 20 years, the third boiler has been “scavenged” for parts to keep the other two boilers working.

“One will work. We need a backup boiler just in case mechanical failure in that boiler goes down,” Saunders said. “What we would be doing is certainly keeping both those boilers and the supporting mechanicals up to par, I guess, for the next 15 to 20 years with the projects that we have lined up.”

He acknowledged steam is less efficient than hot water, but again pointed out that the latter method wouldn’t pay for itself for about 80 years.

Board President Rich Rossway asked if other significant costs could be expected before the two boilers become inoperable since the district is fixing something that’s only going to last more than 15 or 20 years.

The tubing part was the biggest issue with those boilers, and those boilers will be retubed, Saunders said.

“They only operate at, I want to say, 60 or 65 percent efficiency, so they’re really, really inefficient, and this whole steam system is extremely inefficient, but it was cheap when they put it in,” Saunders said. “The system was cheap, not the boilers.

“Like they said, those boilers were built to last a long, long time, and they have, but some of the supporting materials, like the Univents and things like that, are where we start to see more failures that we’re going to have to replace and put money into those systems.”

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.