Committee Nixes Geothermal System at High School
WETHERSFIELD - Escalating costs of PCB abatement at Wethersfield High School--the site of a $74 million renovation project--and a spending restriction established by a referendum, have prompted the Wethersfield High School Building Committee to abandon plans for a geothermal heat and cooling system.

       PCB abatement measures that include EPA mandated removal and disposal of materials found within caulking materials of expansion joints and carpet adhesive is expected to cost $3.5 million, according to David Drake, a member of the Wethersfield Town Council and Building Committee.

       The town only budgeted $700,000 for this component of the project, and will have to depend on the funds it set aside for drilling of 200 geothermal wells to make up the difference.

       “I guess it was the easiest thing to cut out, but I’m won’t be sure if that was the greatest decision until I go to the next [building committee] meeting,” Console said during a phone interview.

       Wethersfield resident John Miller is not sure either. Money spent on the geothermal system would have been reimbursable, he said during the public comments segment of Monday night’s Town Council meeting.

       “If you don’t spend it, you don’t get it back,” Miller said. “I don’t understand how it [the decision] makes money.”

       The decision had more to do with the fact that the Building Committee is not allowed to spend more than $75 million to $80 million on the project-as mandated by a referendum, Drake said.

       “We can’t spend more than what the people voted for,” Drake said during a phone interview. “The biggest bang for your buck without having a big impact on the project is the geothermal. The only other thing we could’ve done was take out a lot of little things, and that would be a lot of work.”

       The drilling of geothermal wells on the site would have allow the building access to 55 degree water that lies between 800 and 1,000 feet underground, Console said. Each classroom would have been able to either heat or cool the water from that point.

       “They made a very good case for it, and it seemed like something we ought to do,” Miller said. “When somebody says ‘this is gonna save the town a lot of money down the line, it costs $1.5 million, and by the way, here’s $1.5 million,’ we ought to consider doing it.”

       The project will instead install a new natural gas system, Drake said. If the town gets a last minute grant or receives bids for the first phase-steel and exterior work-that are under the allotted budget, the Committee may consider putting the geothermal option back on the table, he said.

       “Everybody wanted to keep it, but the goal is education first,” Drake said. “We didn’t wanna cut anything related to education.”

       Miller suggested that the PCB removal may also be reimbursable, although Console said that whether or not that is an option is unknown at this time. Drake thinks that it probably is, but that won’t help the Committee slip the expenditure limits, he said.

       “Those rates are reimbursable but you still have to spend the money,” Drake said.