BARRE — City Hall still isn’t feeling the heat, but officials are cautiously optimistic a prolonged indoor cold snap could come to an end by the close of business Thursday.

Nearly three weeks after the only functioning boiler in the basement of City Hall suffered a catastrophic failure, its recently installed replacement was scheduled to be test fired Wednesday afternoon.

Barring any unexpected developments — and Public Works Director Bill Ahearn said there have been more than a few to this point in the program — a series of safety checks will be completed in time for the new boiler to be brought on line later Thursday.

Ahearn conceded employees at City Hall have heard that before.

“I was certain we were going to have it running last Thursday,” he said of the boiler he’s hoping will be phased into service today and fully functioning before workers head for home.

“So far, every time I’ve said that something comes up,” he said.

Though the removal of the old boiler and the installation of the new one seemingly went off with out a hitch, a wiring issue delayed plans to start the new heating system last week. Those issues were subsequently resolved, but arranging for a controls service technician to inspect and sign off on the system took more time than anticipated.

Ahearn said while a technician was scheduled to arrive Tuesday morning, an emergency call dashed that plan. A technician did visit City Hall on Tuesday afternoon, but wanted to return with a second technician on Wednesday.

According to Ahearn, the city is keenly interested in making sure the controls are properly calibrated after losing both City Hall boilers – one in February and the other last month. The twin boilers were installed in 1994 and the one that failed most recently had been operating with an irreparable crack in its casing for two years.

While the delays have caused some discomfort for employees and the Barre Opera House, Ahearn said outdoor temperatures have been mercifully mild and temporary heating sources have kept indoor temperatures tolerable, if not optimal.

“Some areas are less than fully comfortable,” he said.

While it has taken more time than anticipated to put the new boiler into service, Ahearn stressed the importance of “getting it right,” while noting the timing could have been worse.

“If the boiler had to fail I’m glad it failed in October and not December so we aren’t dealing with freezing pipes,” he said.

City Manager Steve Mackenzie shared another bit of good news with respect to the boiler replacement with city councilors, who ratified the emergency purchase earlier this week. Mackenzie said it appears the new heating system will cost significantly less than the $50,000 that was initially projected. Though there is still work to do, he said, he expects the actual cost will be less than $38,000.

Ahearn said if the safety checks don’t raise any red flags the boiler will start pumping out heat later Thursday. He said it will be eased into service with sections of the building brought on line sequentially starting with the upstairs opera house and working down to the lower levels of City Hall.


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