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School touts geothermal technology

Officials at Niskayuna High School are riding the green wave with the focus on implementing energy-efficient technology upgrades. Its new eco-friendly geothermal heating system, an alternative to fossil-fuel boilers, is expected to reduce the district's reliance on fossil fuels as energy costs and environmental concerns grow.

The installation of a new geothermal heating system began in October as part of the district's $94.5 million facilities project, approved by voters in January 2006, and on Friday, May 2, lead architect Garrett Hamlin of the Thomas Group, and project manager George Weingartner of Sabo-Rubin Services, conducted a tour of the geothermal well field outside the high school for school and town officials.

Attending the tour were Kevin Baughman, superintendent of schools; Matt Bourgeois, business superintendent of schools; and Bill Lee and Jim Burgess, chairman and vice chairman of the town's environmental committee.

Baughman said the benefits of the eco-friendly system go beyond the savings.

In addition to saving energy, I will use the geothermal system as a teaching tool for the high school students, said Baughman. "They will learn about the new trends in energy conservation."

Bourgeois said original estimates for the system, which is more expensive than a conventional boiler, put the predicted payback at only seven years.

"That was when the project was proposed and when energy was much less costly than it is now so the actual payback should be shorter," said Bourgeois.

Joe Miranda, vice president of ADT, the company drilling the required holes from which geo-thermal energy is extracted, explained the construction and use of the wells.

"Each well contains the water piping, and we encapsulate the tubes in grout with a high thermal conductivity," said Miranda.

A total of 300 wells will be drilled. In October, crews began drilling the wells, each 400 feet deep. To date, the process is 90 percent complete. Meanwhile, installation of the network piping is approximately 40 percent complete. The geothermal heating system is expected to begin phasing in later this year as renovations are completed in other areas of the high school.

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