Gorham voters will be asked in November to approve spending $819,900 more to cover the upgrade and repair of outdated heat pumps at the middle school.

Voters last year authorized the School Department to borrow $2.26 million for the project, but that has fallen short of the total amount now needed because of rising costs, officials said. The additional $819,000 is in hand so no further borrowing is needed, but voters still need to authorize its use.

The referendum on the Nov. 2 ballot “is not asking for additional dollars that would increase taxes. The additional funding is coming from additional state subsidy and undesignated fund balance,” Superintendent Heather Perry said Wednesday in an email to the American Journal.

“This is a critical project to complete,” she said.

School officials believed $2.26 million would fix the heating, air conditioning and ventilation system problem at the school that opened in 2003. But the bids came in $472,000 over budget.

The Town Council in a special meeting Aug. 24 allowed using $575,000 from the school capital reserve fund and $244,900 from an undesignated fund balance in addition to the $2.26 million from bonds.

Gorham Middle School was the state’s first school with a geothermal heating system and has 130 heat pumps. The aging pumps are troublesome. One heat pump caught fire in 2014 and smoke evacuated the building during a parent-teacher conference.

More than 18 years old, the HVAC system, Perry said, is outdated and failing. Three three heat pumps failed last year and four in 2019, Perry said.

“We are unable to get replacement heat pumps when they fail and instead have to spend considerably more money to repair these pumps by retrofitting parts from older units,” Perry said. “When one pump fails, we typically have to spend about $10,000 to get it operational again, and that is just to get it operational, not to improve its overall life expectancy or increase/improve efficiencies.”

If voters fail to approve the referendum, school officials will be in a bind.

“At some point in the not-too-distant future, if we are unable to move forward with this project, heat pumps will fail and we will not be able to repair them,” Perry said. “If that were to occur, our HVAC system would not appropriately heat the building, and worse yet – especially in COVID 19 times – our HVAC system would not be able to circulate and ventilate air appropriately throughout the building.”

No one spoke at the Town Council’s public hearing Tuesday on the referendum. School Committee Chairperson Darryl Wright and Perry attended.

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