ERIK NORMAN, an engineering manager with Mechanical Services Inc., explains the workings of the natural gas boiler at Hyde School.

ERIK NORMAN, an engineering manager with Mechanical Services Inc., explains the workings of the natural gas boiler at Hyde School.


Hyde School has flipped the switch to heating 85 percent of its buildings to natural gas.

School officials expect a payback of the $150,000 investment in just a year. After that, it’s all about savings.

Hyde School officials — together with representatives of Mechanic Services Inc., which hooked the school up — were happy to talk about the value of natural gas during a tour last week as they showed off one of the new boilers at the magnificent Hyde Mansion.

George Paton, the school’s facilities manager, said natural gas will cost the school about half the price of heating oil.

“There are so many advantages to gas,” Paton said. “It burns cleaner and it’s also a product that we have a lot of here in North America. And it certainly helps the bottom line considerably.”

Cindy Morgan, Hyde’s business manager, concurs.

“The transition from oil to gas was seamless,” Morgan said.

Natural gas isn’t available everywhere. Hyde School just happened to be in the right place after Maine Natural Gas installed lines to service Bath Iron Works two years ago. The line went right by the nearby Holiday Inn, and connected to BIW from there.

School officials conferred with the governing board regarding a natural gas pipeline to campus.

Apparently, it was a nobrainer.

“The Governing Board quickly approved it,” Paton said. “With the main gas line so very close, it made perfect sense to go that way.”

The gas line itself came at no cost to the school.

“They get reimbursed through BTUs,” Paton said. “We told them what our usage would be, they crunched numbers and they did it. That’s a huge investment on their part.”

Work on the line began last June and was complete by early September.

Hyde contracted with Mechanical Services, a statewide commercial heating and cooling contractor, to convert 15 campus buildings.

The school’s oil-fired steam boilers are equipped with state-of-the-art natural gas burners. In addition, Mechanical Services installed a codecompliant stainless steel lining system in the Hyde Mansion’s 100-year-old chimney.

“We were building a new dorm at the same time, and the roadway was torn up,” recalled Jenny Collinson, director of marketing and communications at Hyde. “But everything was on time, and on schedule.”

“When we weren’t hitting ledge,” Paton said, “it went pretty quickly. We have quite a lot of ledge.”

Chris Green, owner and president of Mechanical Services, said his company has had natural gas on its radar screen for some time.

“Several years ago, we recognized that saving energy was a priority for Maine businesses,” Green said. “We’ve won several awards from Efficiency Maine.”

So what about a homeowner who might not mind cutting heating expenses in half ?

Well, companies that lay natural gas pipelines down need to make it worth their while. Densely-populated areas — such as Bath — work well for them.

Maine Natural Gas, in fact, plans to install a pipeline into the city this summer, and some residents could benefit.

But the service is also expanding elsewhere in the state, Green said.

“From Orono south,” he said, “it’s growing. There’s infrastructure in Augusta, there will be in Bath this summer, and in Limestone.”

The cost to retrofit a home varies, Green said.

“Sometimes it’s as easy as changing the oil burner to a gas burner and bringing the pipe into the building,” he said. “For a homeowner, the return on the investment should be in a couple of years.”

Same as Hyde, Phil and Sylvia Maione were in the right place — the corner of High and South streets — when Maine Natural Gas laid down its lines.

And they were ready.

“They went right by the corner of our house, and we had it ready for them,” Sylvia Maione said. “We bought the motor and everything ahead of time.”

Maione said she and her husband have enjoyed significant savings since switching from heating oil.

“We are very happy with it,” she said. “We were very pleased with the gas company and how they handled it. And I’ve noticed it’s cleaner and quieter.”

Downtown businesses and residents are hoping for similar results, and it won’t be long for some of them.

Roy Lane, a spokesman for Maine Natural Gas, said the company will begin installing pipeline to connect with downtown businesses in early May.

City Hall, the police station and the train station will be connected, Lane said, and the Bath Shopping Center is a possibility. Work should conclude in July, he said.

Meanwhile, a public meeting is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Thursday, April 18 at City Hall to discuss natural gas expansion.

“It will be specific to the downtown,” Lane said. “People can listen, ask questions and sign up, if they choose.”

The company will install the lines beneath sidewalks, largely through horizontal drilling, along Commercial and Front streets, Lane said.

Bernard Wyman, City Council chairman, likes that idea.

“That way,” Wyman said, “we get new sidewalks at no cost.”

Lane said that residential customers along the new lines, as well as along the BIW lines in Bath and West Bath, could benefit.

“We’re going to be looking at potential customers along the main line that came into BIW,” he said. [email protected]

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