Energy committees to work with Frontier to curb fossil fuel usage

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 02-16-2023 3:13 PM

SOUTH DEERFIELD — In hopes of reducing Frontier Regional School’s reliance on fossil fuels, the Deerfield Energy Committee plans to rally its counterparts to work with the school on green planning.

Two representatives of Deerfield’s Energy Committee appeared before the Frontier School Committee Tuesday evening to talk about how their board, and those in their neighboring towns, could come together and help Frontier reduce the use of fossil fuels in the future.

Due to being unclear about funding laws, however, the Energy Committee missed its chance to apply for a Green Communities grant to help fund renewable energy alternatives for Frontier’s boiler, which may be replaced this summer depending on timing of bids and ordering parts.

Energy Committee Chair David Gilbert-Keith said he didn’t know a town could use Green Communities funding on a regional school district project, but upon further research he learned Deerfield’s Energy Committee could apply for a grant and use it to pay off Deerfield’s assessment for a school project.

“What I now know is it pays to be on top of it,” Gilbert-Keith told the Frontier School Committee. “The main reason we’re here tonight is we hope we can figure out some way to coordinate with you for the energy transition that needs to happen.”

In lieu of the boiler replacement, fellow Energy Committee member MA Swedlund suggested they reach out to their counterparts in Conway, Sunderland and Whately, and they could then work with the School Committee and administrators to work out a long-term green energy plan.

“I think it ought to not just be the Deerfield Energy Committee, it should be all of the energy committees,” she said. “If you do that, each town would be able to contribute their proportion of the cost.”

Examples of work that could be done include installing mini-splits in all classrooms or implementing a central air pump or a geothermal heating system. Gilbert-Keith said there are numerous grants available for mini-splits — “people are throwing money at them right now” — and they could help reduce the school’s reliance on the boiler, which may still need to be used on subzero days or if electricity prices skyrocket.

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Superintendent Darius Modestow suggested the Deerfield Energy Committee reach out to him and set up a time to appear before the whole School Committee or Capital Improvement Subcommittee because there are several energy initiatives the school could consider.

“This is a long-term plan, so it makes sense to take our time,” Swedlund commented.

Budget revisions

In other business, the School Committee signaled its support for the second version of the draft fiscal year 2024 budget, which will be presented during a public hearing on March 7.

The draft budget is set at nearly $12.6 million, a $357,702 or 2.92% increase over the current year’s budget. By comparison, the original draft budget entailed a 3.91% increase, but feedback from the Budget Subcommittee brought the administration back to the drawing board, according to Director of Business Administration Shelley Poreda.

“The subcommittee did ask us as administrators to go back and work on that,” Poreda said. “They felt strongly that we should be closer to 3% given what we know about the climate, inflation, our elementary schools and the position our towns might be in financially.”

As a “rule of thumb,” Modestow said, school budgets typically aim to be around a 2.5% or 3% increase over the previous year because towns can only grow their finances so much in any given year.

While not level-funded, the budget is level-service, meaning no existing programs or classes will be cut.

Poreda said cost-of-living adjustments and salaries are driving the budget increases, which is normal for a district.

“That’s pretty typical,” Poreda said. “Our budget is salary-heavy.”

Community feedback will be accepted at the budget hearing on March 7. A time and location will be posted on a later date.

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.

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