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Camden plans drive-in special town meeting

By Susan Mustapich | Jan 06, 2021
Source: Zoom Video Conferencing Camden Select Board members unanimously agreed  to set up a special town meeting for voters to decide on financing a major project to improve energy efficiency throughout town buildings and facilities.

CAMDEN — Voters will have a say on financing a multi-year project to upgrade energy efficiency and improve town buildings and facilities at a Jan. 25 drive-in, special town meeting at the Snow Bowl.

The Select Board unanimously approved warrant articles Jan. 5 for the special town meeting. The articles include authorization to finance the $2.3 million project and a one-time use of $200,000 from the surplus fund for initial costs of the project. Another article is a statement of agreement with stated goals to decrease use of carbon-based fuels.

The energy project will be run by and financed through Siemens Corp., which has a regional headquarters in Scarborough. Prior to the vote, Siemens will provide  fact sheets detailing all of the work to be done, annual financing costs and energy savings, to be posted on the town website and Facebook page.

The idea to hold a drive-in meeting came up as the only option, due to continued State restrictions limiting the number of people allowed in the Opera House to 50. If there is bad weather Jan. 25, the meeting will occur Jan. 26.

Logistics of holding the meeting in the Snow Bowl parking lot will be announced in the next couple of weeks, according to Town Manager Audra Caler.

At the board's Dec.15 meeting, Caler asked for a vote to authorize a 17-year contract with Siemens, with voter authorization of the annual financing to occur at the June town meeting each year. This was before town attorney Bill Kelly had a chance to review the contract. Caler told board members Jan. 5 that Kelly advised voter approval at a town meeting was required in order to seek financing and get approval for a loan for the project.

The large project tackles serious problems with town buildings, such as water infiltration and failing heating, cooling and air handling systems, as well significant energy inefficiency common to older buildings. Over the years, town staff have identified and worked to solve some of these problems with varying degrees of success, and planned to tackle other problems.

Siemens' engineers conducted energy audits throughout 2020 to identify problems that need to be fixed in town buildings and facilities. The audits included interviews with town staff. Engineers then designed energy-saving solutions for problems with building envelopes, windows, lighting and systems for heating, cooling and air handling. The solutions are geared to drive down energy costs and extend the life of buildings.

The town plans to borrow the $2.3 million to pay for the improvements, and pay off the loan in a 17-year period. Caler said the interest rate is around 2%. Siemens identifies and guarantees an annual energy savings figure for the whole project, reasoning that these savings reduce the cost to the town.

Select Board members were presented recommendations for building upgrades in December from Siemens market manager for Maine and New Hampshire, Denny Webber; project developer and engineer, Elmer Arbogast and engineer, Colleen Fissette.

The upgrades mainly focus on the Opera House/town office, public safety building, Snow Bowl lodge and Camden Public Library. Some upgrades are also suggested for public works and wastewater treatment facilities.

Lighting conversion to LED technology will be done throughout the buildings and the Snow Bowl parking lot.

Opera House work includes a moisture barrier in the basement; replacement of the slate roof to stop leaks; an addition to the air handling system that eliminates 99% of airborne contaminants; and new programmable thermostats.

Work to install new copper gutters and repair brick façade behind the gutters was a prominent feature in downtown through 2020, as scaffolding shrouded the Elm Street side of the building for most of the year.

The plan is to first install the moisture barrier in the basement. This will prevent moisture from groundwater running beneath the building from traveling through the building. Engineers identified areas of the roof not covered by a membrane as subject to leaks. Roof replacement involves removing the slate shingles, replacing broken shingles, sealing the entire roof with a membrane and reattaching the slate shingles. The attic can be insulated to increase energy efficiency as long as the basement treatment and new roof resolve moisture issues, according to the engineers.

The public safety building is slated for installation of a heat pump and replacement of heating, cooling, heat pumps and air handling units. The town had planned some of this work previously, and will wrap it into the Siemens project to benefit from the financing terms.

At the Camden Public Library, work involves replacement of attic insulation, installation of a new propane boiler and replacement of a failing automated system that regulates heating, cooling and air handling.

The library receives half of its funding from the town budget approved by voters, and on its own raises the remainder of funding needed for operations. The Siemens' plan has the library contributing $26,000 annually towards the loan repayment.

Energy upgrades at the Snow Bowl may include replacing trail lighting fixtures which are failing. The side of the A-frame lodge facing the parking lot would get a visual upgrade and any single-pane windows would be replaced with double-panes.

The highest impact upgrade would be the installation of a geothermal system to heat and cool the existing lodge. The system would be designed so that it would also provide  heating and cooling for a new lodge, if it is built.

Siemens engineers described the geothermal as a big move to reduce the Snow Bowl's carbon footprint. They estimate that changing from fossil fuel to on-site sustainable energy would reduce carbon emissions by 20 tons a year. The engineers talked about an energy audit of the snowmaking operation at the Snow Bowl, which opened at the end of December . The facility is the town's largest consumer of electricity and generates its most expensive electricity bills.

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