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School energy costs rising

October 25, 2000

School energy costs rising



By TARA REILLY / Staff Writer


While motorists and homeowners struggle with rising gasoline and oil prices, the Washington County Board of Education is uncertain if it will have enough money to heat its more than 40 schools this year.

The school system is expecting an increase of nearly $130,000, or about 40 percent, in oil costs and nearly a $480,000 increase in gas, more than double what it paid last year, according to Director of Facilities Management Dennis McGee.

"We're anticipating our energy costs are going to rise above what we have budgeted," School Board President Paul Bailey said.

Bailey said about $3 million is budgeted for energy costs, including electricity.

Last year, the school system spent $321,000 on oil and is expecting to pay about $450,000 this year. It paid $3.30 in gas per decatherm and expects to pay about $6.10 per decatherm this year. A decatherm, which is a measurement of the heat content of natural gas, equals one million BTUs.

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McGee said the financial outlook could get worse if the area gets hit with an unusally cold winter.

"If we get a combination of a cold winter and higher prices, we're going to have a major issue in the public schools," he said. "We're not going to panic, obviously. We're going to wait until we see what the weather brings."

Depending on the outcome, the School Board could end up with a budget shortfall in the energy category ranging between $100,000 and $300,000. That takes into consideration an additional $228,000 the School Board budgeted in anticipation of rising costs, McGee said.

The Energy Information Administration is expecting retail energy fuel costs to remain elevated throughout the winter, adding to the risk of higher temporary price spikes in case of abnormally cold weather, according to a press release.

McGee said there are a few options the board can take to cut back on heating costs, including keeping temperatures below the norm or closing schools if the area faces a brutally cold winter.

The board can choose to turn the heat in schools to under 68 degrees, its normal heat temperature.

"There have been instances in the past where we've had to lower that," he said.

Twelve schools in the system are equipped with a dual heating system and can be switched from gas to oil, depending on which resource costs less at the time.

"If we see a spike in oil, we're going to burn gas," he said.

The board started taking measures to contain costs four years ago by replacing old boilers at Williamsport, South Hagerstown and Boonsboro high schools. The projects totaled about $1 million.

"We're getting better and more efficient boilers," McGee said. "We're not just sitting on our heels either."

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