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Concord has no say in state’s two-year parking lot heating rig

  • Construction workers are seen on Green Street on Tuesday, May 9, 2017, and in the state Department of Justice parking lot, where trailers will contain boilers that will provide heat to state-owned buildings downtown starting next month. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Thursday, May 11, 2017

In a downtown Concord parking lot, the state has devised a temporary district heating rig contained within tractor trailers that will kick into gear next month after Concord Steam closes.

Its location, across the street from the city hall campus and a block away from a cluster of apartments, has local officials concerned about the sights and sounds it will bring, especially because they have no authority to demand changes.

The boilers will run continually until 2019, when the state expects to complete its conversion of 26 buildings to alternative heat sources and abandon the district heating model downtown, said Mike Connor, the deputy commissioner of the state’s Department of Administrative Services.

The state doesn’t have to comply with local land-use regulations – even for a long-term, outdoor heating setup – but Connor said it has taken steps to be a “good neighbor.”

He explained that the setup will be hidden behind a “very attractive fence,” and as for noise, said, “I believe it’s around 65 decibels is what we’re being told, but we’ll know once we get it running.”

That noise level is somewhere between the buzz of a restaurant setting and the whir of a vacuum cleaner, according to online charts.

“We’ve told the city we’re going to do whatever it takes to minimize the noise level. If we have to do some acoustical treatment to the trailer, we will,” he said, adding that the trailers could be lined with sound-deadening materials.

Aside from Connor’s good will, the city has no leverage to regulate the temporary heating system, which will plug into an existing steam loop downtown that includes the State House, Legislative Office Building and state library.

City Planner Heather Shank said that during a courtesy meeting with the state, its representatives initially proposed to put barbed wire atop a chain-link fence to secure the boilers.

“You heard me correctly,” she said. “Barbed wire on top. We all said, ‘What? No way. Please, no.’ ”

Shank said the state backed away from that plan, but other city recommendations didn’t fare as well, such as the request that the fence be eliminated and the trailers be individually secured and wrapped with some kind of decoration.

“We just had to diplomatically ask with sweet smiles on our face,” she said. “They come and they tell us what they’re going to do, and then we make suggestions for changes we’d like made, and then sometimes they try to accommodate us, and other times they don’t.”

For his part, Connor said the state never planned to use barbed wire.

“There was some talk about that at the initial city meeting,” he said. “I’m not sure where it came from, but it was not our plan.”

Connor noted that the state agreed to reorient its trailers, so they’ll be side-by-side parallel to Capitol Street instead of Green Street “to minimize the visual impact.”

“We’re very cognizant of what it looks like, and we want to minimize the impact to our neighbors, and the city, our major neighbor,” he said.

Mayor Jim Bouley said he’s been contacted by residents living in the neighborhood nearby who worried they’d have to spend the summer with their windows closed or else be drowned out by the noise.

Bouley said he understands the dilemma – because the school district and city are also moving to new heating sources – but he hopes the state will keep the residents in mind.

“In solving the problem,” he said, “I think it’s important they recognize there is a neighborhood there.”

Connor said the first trailer will be operational within days after Concord Steam closes May 31. It’s important that the pipes remain warm, he said, because they’ll start to rust and leak if they sit idle.

When winter comes, the state will bring in an additional trailer to insure against failure. One trailer will be enough to heat the state’s downtown buildings, Connor said, but they’ll alternate between the two from December to March.

Connor also noted that the state will install an “ornamental fence” that will shield and protect the site.

“That will block out some of the ugliness,” Connor said. “It’s actually a nice aluminum stockade fence. ... It’s a very attractive fence.”

(Nick Reid can be reached at 369-3325, nreid@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at
@NickBReid.)