The city of Astoria has decided to “bite the bullet.”

 Knee-deep in the City Hall remodel, the heating source for the building – an old steam boiler from the 1940s  – will finally change.

  “It’s a big behemoth boiler that turns water into steam and heats the building that way,” City Manager Paul Benoit told Monday night’s Astoria City Council. “We proposed to just use the same boiler, the same system, and just make some modifications to it and be done with it, primarily because of cost.”

Now, however, P & C Construction has recommended a conversion, strongly encouraging the City Council to not continue using “antique technology,” and move to a hot water boiler.

The current boiler had a 40-year life expectancy, and while way beyond that, it will still probably be usable for the next 10 years, said Dale Johnson, subcontractor for the heating and cooling of the system. Project Manager Howard Clarke was also in attendance of Monday night’s meeting.

The current boiler has a 60 percent efficiency rating and with modifications, it will continue to have the same rating.

A hot water boiler is approximately 98 percent efficient.

“We have one opportunity and that opportunity is now to do it right,” Benoit said. “It’s technology that I think .. is going to save the city tens of thousands of dollars, in the long haul. In the short haul, it’s a very expensive proposition.”

To pay for the new system, estimated at $160,000, Benoit suggested two options. One would be to pay for it out of the $200,000 contingency the Council has assigned to the project, which would essentially drain the account and leave nothing for change orders – something Benoit said he would never recommend. The other option was to take the money out of the Capital Improvement Fund and then when the project is over, pay this back from the contingency.

Paying for the new boiler system out of the Capital Improvement Fund for something that’s not budgeted will leave that fund at a starting balance of $100,000 for the next fiscal year, the lowest it’s probably ever been, Benoit said.

Councilman Russ Warr suggested the city just “bite the bullet,” and do it the way Benoit has suggested.

Councilwoman Arline LaMear said she believed it would be a mistake not to go forward in replacing the “true dinosaur.”

Councilman Peter Roscoe, however, was curious as to why the heating hadn’t been looked into during the planning stages of the City Hall remodel. Benoit again explained that this isn’t mandatory, but an opportunity to change the system for the better.

He also added that once the decision was made, there was no going back.

“It’s very unlikely that any future City Council is going to make a decision to revert to this technology,” Benoit said. “We’re making a major decision with this now.”

The Council approved the conversion.

The new boiler is expected to have a 15- to 20-year payback through efficiency savings.

The city is working on harvesting timber from the watershed, which could offset these boiler costs. A carbon credit program, however, is not something the city should count on, Public Works Director Ken Cook said. It would be a bonus.

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