Missouri Fuels for Schools projects bring celebration

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CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. – Six southern Missouri schools are leading the way toward the use of biomass heating technology, according to Missouri State Forester Lisa Allen, who is also Forestry division chief with the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC). Allen and other officials traveled across southern Missouri to hold ribbon cutting ceremonies the week of Oct. 24, commemorating the newly operating biomass thermal energy heating systems that make up the Missouri Fuels for Schools program.

MDC awarded $6 million in grants to the schools from 2010 to 2011 funded under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) and administered by the U.S. Forest Service, according to MDC Forest Management Chief John Tuttle. Construction is complete on all six of the projects, which began in the fall of 2010.

"Missouri's schools, children, and forests will see lasting benefits from these Recovery Act projects," said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. "Jobs, education, and healthy landscapes are what this work was all about."

Gainesville R-V School District, Mountain View-Birch Tree Liberty High School, Eminence R-I Elementary School, Southern Reynolds County R-II School District, Steelville R-III School District and Perry County School District 32 involved students and faculty in their highly celebrated ribbon cutting ceremonies.

Tuttle said MDC is pleased to see construction completed, but it’s the positive economic impact to local communities paired with the priority of keeping Missouri forests healthy that he’s so pleased to witness.

“As these schools operate their new boiler systems, they’ll use woody biomass from local and private forest land and wood waste from local sawmills to heat their facilities. We’ll see the new technology help reduce dependence on fossil fuels, reduce energy costs, create or retain jobs and support healthy forests and the state’s forest industry,” Tuttle said.

The Fuels for Schools projects will help create a stronger market for woody material historically considered waste, such as unhealthy or small-diameter trees and wood debris left from logging, which currently have little or no commercial value.

The projects support forest health, a key mission of both MDC and U.S. Forest Service, by potentially making it economical to thin overcrowded forest stands and remove diseased and insect-infested trees, Tuttle said.

Students were involved in many of the ceremonies, and Allen took advantage of the opportunity to explain the importance of forests to the state and how this new use of wood materials could enhance the benefits provided by forests such as clean air and water, wildlife habitat, scenic beauty and recreation.

“Healthy woods require care to maintain their growth and productivity. However, historically it has been difficult for Missouri’s woodland owners to economically thin young trees because the trees being cut and removed had little commercial value,” Allen explained. “It is our hope that woody biomass burning boilers like the ones installed by the Fuels for Schools program will create a market that will entice landowners to improve forested areas by thinning the trees. Such actions will also enhance wildlife habitat, potentially expand the forest products industry and support the local economy.”

Michael Anthony, with Mountain Grove Heating and Air Conditioning, said his local economy has already benefited from the program. Anthony’s company was involved in construction of the new boiler system at Eminence Elementary School.

“This project produced good wages and a means for people to work hard and put food on the table in the midst of this hard economy,” Anthony said. “I believe it will continue to cause a ripple effect of money here locally.”

But as first grade student, Damion, told the group on Tuesday morning, there’s another benefit to the program--efficient heating that will keep school children warm through the winter months.

“We won’t freeze this winter,” Damion said.

His principal agreed.

“We’re proud to be piloting this program as an example to other schools across Missouri,” said Charles James, principal of Eminence Elementary School. “If other schools want to know where to go, they can just follow us.”

More information on the Missouri Fuels for Schools program, can be found at http://missourifuelsforschools.totorcd.org.