SCARBOROUGH – After reading a Sept. 12 Maine Voices column, “Middle school proposal for Scarborough too big and too expensive,” disparaging the proposed Wentworth Intermediate School replacement project, I feel compelled to respond to some of the comments and opinions it contains.

They are incorrect or at the least misleading, in particular with regard to using geothermal energy for heating and cooling the new building.

The author indicated that “The district is also adding significant cost to the project for geothermal heating.”

He commented on a geothermal project at the Westbrook Middle School that he says “isn’t working properly and already needs to be repaired.”

But residents and tax payers of Scarborough deserve to be presented with the best and most accurate information that is available to them to make their decisions regarding the proposed Wentworth Intermediate School project.

I am a licensed professional engineer and geotechnical engineer with more 40 years of consulting experience.

Therefore, I believe that I have a basis for stating that the use of geothermal energy for heating and cooling the proposed new school is logical, appropriate and reasonable.

The technology currently available to qualified engineers and contractors to design, construct and maintain geothermal energy systems is proven and reliable.

Further, geothermal energy systems are being incorporated into numerous projects in Maine and throughout the nation.

Those sites include municipal office and schools, colleges and universities, federal buildings and private developments.

Geothermal energy systems are environmentally friendly (i.e., “green”) and are used to reduce fuel use and harmful air emissions while also lowering building life cycle costs.

These systems collect (winter heating season) or dissipate (summer cooling season) thermal energy from the ground.

The use of the ground as a “thermal battery” significantly reduces the need to provide wood-, oil- or gas-fired boilers, which means lower use of natural resources (i.e. wood, fuel oil, natural gas, etc.).

There are no harmful greenhouse air emissions generated by the geothermal system, thereby reducing the carbon footprint of the project and contributing to healthful air quality.

The system being considered for Wentworth is a vertical closed loop system that will not pump or impact groundwater at the site.

Fuel cost information provided by the Scarborough School Department indicates that using a geothermal system will save about $72,000 per year, with no allowance for future increases in fuel costs. (Does anyone really think fuel costs will not rise during the next 50 years?)

This means that the additional cost of the geothermal system (estimated to be about $1.4 million) will be paid by fuel savings alone in less than one half the useful life of the building.

After the premium cost of the geothermal system has been paid through fuel cost savings, the School Department and the taxpayers of the town of Scarborough will benefit from significant fuel cost savings.

The author referenced problems with a geothermal system at the Westbrook Middle School project.

Designers of that system have indicated that there were some problems with one of the heat pumps that was replaced by the contractor at no cost to the owner, and that the problem was simply an equipment failure.

They also indicate that an energy study was conducted this spring on the geothermal system at the Westbrook school and found that the system was operating at a lower energy use than was predicted (i.e. the system was operating more efficiently than planned).

As a member of the Wentworth Intermediate School building committee, I have witnessed the thousands of volunteer hours that have been spent by concerned Scarborough residents and taxpayers during the past year to learn and understand the educational needs of the children, and develop a school concept that will provide for a healthy, safe and affordable intermediate school for the town.

The building committee and school educators have been guided by an experienced team of planners, architects and engineers to match the education needs with a practicable school complex that incorporates current technology and learning systems.

If there are Scarborough residents and taxpayers who want to learn more about the proposed Wentworth Intermediate School before making their decision about approving the referendum question, the building committee volunteers are flooding the town with information sessions and fact sheets — just look for your neighbor with the red T-shirt.

– Special to The Press Herald