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City studies high costs at animal shelter

November 7, 2011

PAWTUCKET — Despite its modern design and state-of-the-art amenities, the city's animal shelter is finding itself in the doghouse when it comes to heating and electrical costs.
The $2.2 million Paul J. Wildenhain Memorial Animal Shelter, which opened in October 2008, has been the topic of recent City Council discussions over its high energy costs. City Councilor Mark Wildenhain, son of the late councilor in whose name the facility was dedicated to and a member of the council's Animal Control sub-committee, expressed concerns about the heating and electric bills and asked for the city's purchasing director to look into the matter further and find some solutions.
In a response to the City Council, Purchasing Agent
David Clemente outlined several problems that are contributing to the high energy bills, most of which are centered around the decision to use a propane-powered system to heat the facility. He stated in his letter, “I believe I share with everyone the feeling of disappointment having to remedy such problems in the newest building built by the city.”
However, Clemente pointed out to the council that city officials made a decision at the time of construction to have the city engineer design and act as the general contractor for this project. Therefore, he wrote, the city has no means to hold anyone outside the city responsible for any design or oversight flaws that may have occurred. (This employee no longer works for the city.)
Clemente explained that the use of the propane system creates several major added expense factors, including a heating system that exhausts interior heated air directly outside, only to bring in fresh, cold outside air to “heat” the interior, which then must be reheated. He wrote that “whatever reasons may have been used to justify this design decision, its implementation has significantly increased day to day operational costs.”
Another key problem was choosing propane as the fuel source to heat the building instead of opting for the available alternative of bringing a gas line in from Newport Avenue. Whatever money that may have been saved in the short term “appears to be rapidly becoming outweighed by the long-term costs of the propane-powered system,” Clemente wrote.
The purchasing agent also cited the choice of a one-loop radiant floor heat configuration as contributing to the higher bills. He noted that the shelter was built with radiant floor heating both inside and the outside kennels.
The outside kennels were included within the overall system, to prevent accumulation of snow, ice and frozen animal wastes, which was, in itself, a good idea, Clemente conceded. However, putting both the inside and outside areas on the same loop was similar to “a homeowner running one-third of the indoor baseboard heating system outside the house while trying to maintain temperature on the inside,” he stated in his letter.
Clemente also noted that it is unclear if the heating systems were ever properly “commissioned,” the process that a “typical” general contractor would undertake to make sure all system components are working properly and at full capacity.
Clemente said that the propane usage at the shelter for 2009-2010 totaled $31,107, with January the highest month at $9,092. He said the electrical costs have been significant as well, and that during 2009-2010, electricity usage totaled $26,547, with August the highest month at $3,288. The combined energy costs (propane and electric) for that year totaled $57,654.
Clemente advised the council that the management and staff at the animal shelter have undertaken important measures to cut costs. He said Animal Control Supervisor John Holmes had the radiant floor heating loops separated so that the inside and outdoor loops now work independently, greatly improving the efficiency of the system.
He said Holmes has also temporarily shut down the forced hot air system, relying on the radiant floor system to heat the large dog kennel. He plans on continuing to operate in this way, saving the forced hot air system for use on extremely cold days.
Clemente told the council that while questions about the choice of system and how it was installed remain unanswered, the city is having energy audits performed on the animal shelter and all of its buildings by an energy services company. He added that the city's Department of Planning and Redevelopment is currently working on an upgrade of city buildings to retrofit old boilers with natural gas using federal stimulus funds and will ask National Grid for a cost estimate on running a new gas line to the animal shelter under this pricing plan.
Clemente also said that the Planning Department will be asking RISE to do an energy efficiency audit at the animal shelter to look at other possible energy sources, including renewable energy solutions such as solar.


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