R-M Schools showcases bond-funded improvements

MARQUETTE – The Republic-Michigamme Schools unveiled its new biomass heating plant as well as a slew of energy-saving upgrades to its buildings to a crowd of about 150 earlier this week.

The school held an open house to show off the new plant and building upgrades in an effort to showcase what the district has been doing since local taxpayers approved a roughly $4.3 million bond proposal in 2011.

“We wanted people to have a chance to see what their money had paid for, and I think that’s what happened. It was really good,” Superintendent Paul Currie said. “The whole intent was to say ‘Thank you’ … We appreciate the support of the community.”

A majority of the bond was spent to install the new, wood-fueled biomass heating unit, as well as to replace the old lighting with higher efficiency lighting, replace all the drop ceilings, replace the district’s hot water system with a more efficient one, install a new computerized control system and install a few fire alarm system.

The remaining money will be spent on replacing the school’s roof as well as adding a new electronic security system, new electronically controlled entrance doors and new windows.

The most popular aspect of the open house was the tour of the new biomass plant, Currie said.

He said the school badly needed an upgrade to its heating system and the biomass unit made sense, since it could save the school district thousands on heating costs, as well as use a heat source that is abundant in the Upper Peninsula – wood chips from sawmills.

“We needed to replace our heating system,” Currie said. “It was aging. We had steam lines in underground tunnels that were leaking. The system had to be replaced. At that point, what do we go to? The biomass is definitely cheaper fuel and it’s local, so the economics and the idea of using a local fuel (drove the decision.)”

The entire project, which is being conducted under the guidance of Johnson Controls, is expected to save the district a total of $106,000 annually.

“Last year, we spent around $107,000 in heating alone,” Currie said.

The biomass plant was fully operational in early December.

Currie said work on the rest of the district’s building upgrades are scheduled to be completed by the end of next summer.

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is jstark@miningjournal.net.