- Associated Press - Saturday, August 20, 2016

CUMBERLAND, Md. (AP) - Across Maryland - from Friendsville to Crisfield - there remain four public schools that heat with coal. All are in Cumberland.

The old furnaces and associated apparatus are remnants of a time when coal was a frugal choice for keeping students, teachers and staff warm, according to Vincent Montana, director of facilities for Allegany County Public Schools.

“They were state-of-the-art heating devices when those schools were built,” Montana said, referring to Braddock and Washington middle schools and Fort Hill and Allegany high schools.

Although it was 93 degrees on Wednesday as Montana quantified the use of coal, the heating season is no more than 60 or so days away.

In fact, on Tuesday evening at its public meeting, the county’s board of education approved the annual purchase of coal from two companies.

Frostburg-based Pine Mountain Coal Company will provide coal for Allegany High School at $120 per ton. Collins Brokerage LLC in Pennsylvania will supply the other three schools at $103 per ton.

The need for coal at Allegany will cease once the new school is opened on Haystack Mountain, but for now the supplier must be able to bring a conveyor belt to the school because the fuel enters the building at an elevated location.

“Pine Mountain has that capability,” Montana said.

An average of 517 tons of coal are burned annually at Allegany.

“When state administrators came here from Baltimore to look at Allegany to consider the building of a new school, they were amazed when we showed them the coal furnace,” Montana said.

Allegany actually has two boilers, the main boiler built in 1982 and the gymnasium boiler constructed in 1958.

The Fort Hill furnace has seniority, being born in 1935. About 330 tons of coal will smolder there this coming academic year.

Braddock’s furnace, circa 1965, will burn 332 tons and Washington’s, also 1965, will ignite 211 tons.

“Washington uses less coal because they let the temperature drop during off hours and Braddock uses more because they keep the temperature up,” explained Jay Marley, superintendent of maintenance and construction for county schools. “But then we get more complaints from Washington about people being cold.”

Flintstone, George’s Creek and Northeast schools heat solely with fuel oil.

Some schools, such as Westmar, Mount Savage and Cresaptown, have dual systems, allowing for the use of either natural gas or fuel oil.

“If the cost of fuel oil drops dramatically, we can switch off natural gas,” Montana said. “But that hasn’t happened.”

The new Allegany High School will have such a system.

During the most recent school year, the county paid about $22,000 to heat Braddock, $16,000 for Fort Hill and $11,000 for Washington.

Fort Hill is twice as large as each of the other two schools.

“Fort Hill is the best-constructed building we have,” Montana said.

Costs for heating schools with natural gas include $36,000 at Westmar and $24,000 at Mountain Ridge.

Yes, it’s true. Even though Mountain Ridge’s teams are known as The Miners, there’s not a shovel or an ash bucket to be found at the high school in Frostburg, at least not dirty ones.

George’s Creek uses $34,000 worth of fuel oil per year and Flintstone’s cost is $20,000.

Removing coal ash from schools is highly regulated and can become expensive, according to maintenance supervisor Marley.

Currently, Pine Mountain is using the ash at its surface mining operation, which benefits the county’s coffers, he added.

A ton of coal will leave 260 pounds of ashes, Marley said.

For the foreseeable future, it appears that some of the city’s students will continue to be warmed by what could be considered as functioning museum pieces.

Montana said he asked for some preliminary cost projections to change schools from coal to natural gas.

“Each of the middle schools would cost $660,000 and Fort Hill would be $1.1 million,” he said. “If we had that kind of money, there are some other things we’d fix first.”

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Information from: Cumberland (Md.) Times-News, https://www.times-news.com/timesnew.html

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