Attendees of an unveiling event observe the Houston School District's new wood-burning boiler unit that was paid for in part by the Missouri Department of Conservation's "Fuels for Schools" program. At right is the huge sawdust bin where fuel for the unit is stored.

In an effort to replace worn out equipment and save money at the same time, the Houston School District unveiled its new wood-burning boiler unit on Wednesday of last week.

The addition of the unit is part of the Missouri Department of Conservation’s “Fuels For Schools” program, which provided $305,000 of the project’s total cost of about $750,000. MDC state forester Lisa Allen was on hand for the unveiling, and spoke to a group of Houston Schools officials, members of local government, MDC personnel and other interested people.

Allen said Fuels for Schools is about helping school districts pay less for heating while utilizing a renewable resource from a local source. After the installation of a system in Houston, and another almost simultaneously in Summersville, eight systems have been installed through the program since it began in 2009.

“We’re excited about helping small school districts save money,” Allen said. “We’ve heard lots of success stories from the first six districts, and the money saved can go toward priorities within each district.”

Houston Schools Superintendent Dr. Allen Moss said the sawdust burned in the new unit comes from the Licking area.

Moss said the old boiler badly needed replacing and would frequently shut down due to blockage of fuel (sawdust), failed parts and other problems. He said installing the new unit didn’t require replacing any of the existing heating system’s infrastructure.

“The steam lines running from the boiler room to the high school, middle school, and gymnasium, and duct work, heat exchangers and units in those buildings all remained intact,” Moss said. 

Houston’s new unit heats the high school and middle school complex on Pine Street, while the elementary school has propane heat. Moss said consideration was given to writing the grant to put a wood mass boiler there as well, but the infrastructure that didn’t have to be replaced for the high school/middle school project would have at the elementary school.

“That would have raised the cost too high for the district to handle,” he said. 

Members of the Houston Schools board of education and Missouri Department of Conservation gather for a ribbon cutting ceremony in recognition of the installation of a new wood-burning boiler unit that will heat the high school and middle school buildings. 

In addition to the new main unit, a new, fuel oil burning back-up unit was installed that is used on milder days and is designed to kick on immediately if the wood mass boiler shuts down for any reason.

“We try to run the wood burner when it’s consistently cold,” Moss said. “This may change as we learn the new system.” 

Allen said the wood-burning, or “biomass” systems are highly efficient.

“And being an agency charged with managing Missouri’s forests, we’re also excited about the program’s effect in that area,” she said. “And again, it’s not only that wood is a renewable resource, but it’s a local product as well, so it affects local jobs and local forestry management.”

ABOUT FUELS FOR SCHOOLS

MDC officials said the cost of fossil fuel for school heating systems continues to rise in certain parts of the country, while at the same time, many school districts are facing declining budgets and have been forced to cut back on programs or personnel. In turn, school districts need an alternative heating system that can heat facilities reliably and more economically.

Also, rural communities need stable employment opportunities. Forest-based industries are major employers in rural areas, but they often face tight profit margins and are not globally competitive during lean economic times. The Fuels for Schools program addresses the need for forest industries to find a new product market that is consistent and sustainable to spur job growth.

Another piece of the puzzle involves landowners, MDC said, who pay more money to remove small-diameter and low value trees than they receive in return. Subsequently, these landowners can benefit from a profitable market for these kinds of wood products so they have an incentive to remove such material.

“The program helps participating school districts enjoy substantially lower fuel costs,” Allen said, “and creates a viable market for low-value wood that results in jobs in affected rural communities.”

Removing low-quality woody material from the woods also improves forest health and lowers forest fire hazard, Allen said, and schools can use their new heating systems to teach students about the use of renewable energy, and demonstrate how to measure energy use and energy system efficiency using performance-monitoring equipment that’s installed at each site.

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