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Faulty furnace drains $100K from Paris coffers
PARIS — A decision to go with a cheap heating system at the fire station in 2002 has cost Paris taxpayers $100,000, Town Manager Phil Tarr told the Board of Selectmen during a Monday meeting.
When the fire station was built in 2002, the original heating plans were altered to install a less expensive heating system than the one originally recommended. In 2007, the heating system was replaced by a second inexpensive system.
Now, the second system is failing, and needs to be replaced again.
Tarr said that the current system is "undersized," and "overused because it is undersized. And they fail frequently ... . It's a chronic condition."
Tarr disseminated photos that demonstrate that various parts of the combustion chamber are disintegrating due to frequent overheating.
"The combustion chamber is damaged beyond repair. It needs to be replaced," said Tarr.
The 2007 system was installed by RPH, a heating company from Jay, over the objections of some citizens.
Fire Chief Brad Frost and others in attendance accused the 2007 board of selectmen of giving the replacement contract to unqualified friends, to the detriment of the town.
"RPH ... was the lowest bidder," said Frost. "They had friends on the board that pushed it, and they were urged not to go with that company. They were urged not to go with that company, and they went with them. So that's why we're sitting here. Cheap is not always better."
Former selectwoman Janet Jamison said that going with RPH was a mistake, and apologized for her part in the decision.
"We went with RPH and by God, they disappeared into the frigging woodwork, and here we are again," said Jamison. "I'm terribly sorry, because I did vote with those idiots."
None of the current board were selectmen in 2007.
Tarr said that, soon after installing the system, RPH gradually stopped responding to service calls, and eventually disappeared altogether. In January of 2009, maintenance of the system was turned over to Thayer Corporation, which determined that one of the furnaces had failed, and replaced the parts.
It is not yet known whether the town will be able to recoup any of its expenses, either through an insurance claim, or by holding RPH accountable for the faulty furnaces.
Tarr said that he had not yet been able to determine whether RPH is even still in business.
"If they're out of business, we may be out of luck," said Selectman Bob Kirchherr.
The company's website, rphinc.com, is no longer active. The phone number listed for RPH now goes to ABT Plumbing, Heating, and Cooling. Both companies have the same address of 66 Hyde Road in Jay, according to online business listings.
A voicemail message for ABT says "We are taking calls for RPH customers. We are sorry to say they have closed their doors."
Tarr recommended putting in a higher-quality system that is capable of heating the large building.
"We went low bid when we built the building. We went low bid when we replaced the furnace. And it hasn't worked," he said.
Selectwoman Jean Smart asked for an estimate of the total cost of the misjudgment.
"How much money did saving our budget in 2002 actually cost us?" asked Smart.
"It would approach $100,000," said Tarr. "The first burner is gone. The two that replaced it are going. It's going to be replaced with two more. And each one is around $30,000 apiece. "
Kirchherr said that he would like to identify the culprit in the mess.
"What I'm trying to find out is which outside consultant said 'oh, yeah, that will work fine,'" he said.
Board members and Tarr agreed to move forward with a permanent, adequate replacement, and to explore whether the town could recoup any of its losses from those who backed the system in the first place.
The estimated cost to replace the current system with two floor-mounted gas-fired furnaces is $34,000.
A citizen in attendance urged the board to explore a geothermal heating system.