February 21, 2010

“May we work together to build up the earthly city,
     with our eyes fixed on the city that lasts forever,”

—Morning Prayer, 1st Sunday of Lent


Last month’s newsletter included Mark Baker’s summary of building projects undertaken during 2009. We had several goals in mind in selecting our major projects for the year. Enhancing the men’s safety and comfort, and reducing energy consumption were particular objectives in our planning. Various improvements were also suggested by our residents who themselves volunteered to take on those projects.

Last October, our FundRaiser committee had issued a special   ‘Energy Project’ appeal, which was very well received by our donors and benefactors. Donations to our ‘Energy Project’ totaled in excess of $16,000. Once again, we offer our thanks to all who so generously responded to this appeal.

What does a $16,000 ‘Energy Fund’ do for Unity Acres? It helps us to provide for the basic material conditions necessary for offering our residents ongoing hospitality: in a word, warmth and light. Our ‘Energy Fund’ will offset some of our costs for heating and electricity during the months ahead.

And knowing that at least some of these costs have been covered through our ‘Energy’ appeal, by late November wefelt confident to go ahead with suggested improvements in view of increasing the energyefficiency of our buildings. Insulation was added to buildings that previously were underinsulated and new energyefficient windows were installed in the second storyof the Infirmary. These improvements have already begun to have a noticeable effect, and we hope to be able to do more in the future.

Ours is an aging facility; the buildings are large and difficult to heat, and our energy costs have increased greatly during recent years. Until 2006, all the buildings at Unity Acres were heated with fuel oil. In recent years, our combined costs for electricity, fuel oil and propane increased greatly. And as these costs have continued to increase over time, we have attempted to take steps, big and small, to reduce our consumption of electricity and fuel oil.

During the late spring of 2005, an informal survey of energy use was conducted by members of our Board of Directors and recommendations made concerning reduction of energy use. These preliminary recommendations were subsequently implemented by our residents and staff.

In September 2006, a Fall Festival was held at Saint Ann’s Parish in Manlius, New York. The proceeds of the event were dedicated to the purchase and installation of an outdoor woodboiler which would be used for heating the Star Building, which houses our kitchen and dining hall, as well as a recreation room. This first boiler was put into service in December 2006. We have since then realized very significant reductions in our use of electricity and fuel oil in the operation of this building.

Since much of the Unity Acres property is forested, and our residents harvest, cut, split and stack the needed firewood, and operate the boiler, we have been able tooperate this boiler at very minimal expense.

During the summer of 2008, we determined the installation of a second outdoor wood boiler as a major capital improvement goal for Unity Acres. This second outdoor wood boiler would provide heating and domestic hot water to a group of three linked buildings. Two of these buildings, the Infirmary and the Annex, house 28 men; the Brick Building currently houses a carpentry shop and a storage area.

The eventual purchase of our second outdoor wood boiler was funded by a generous grant received during the summer of 2009 from the Order of Malta, Federal Association, USA. Additional funding was received from the Alden Street Foundation and the 1 stPresbyterian Church in Cazenovia, which helped cover the costs site preparation and installation. We are most grateful to the members of the Order of Malta, 1 st Presbyterian Church in Cazenovia, and the Alden Street Foundation for their generous support, without which we would not have been able to proceed with this project.

The new boiler was delivered on December 1, and was situated immediately to the east of the of the woodboiler which serves the Star Building, so that only one woodstorage area would be needed for both boilers and for the convenience of the boileroperator, Roger Irwin. Installation was complete the following day. The new boiler put into use that same day, and has since been in continuous use.As we had planned (and hoped), we have realized a major reduction in consumption of fuel oil for heating these buildings and we can confidently project further reductions in our heating costs during the upcoming months of the heating season this year and into the future.Our outdoor woodboilers are also suited for other alternative fuels, such as anthracite coal and ear corn. We have already done a very preliminary testburn of coal. In future, as we correlate our available supply to our consumption of firewood, we will investigate the feasibility of switching to coal as fuel for part of the year.

Savings in energy costs free up limited resources for other obligations, for meeting the needs of our residents for food and other supplies, and for the general maintenance of our buildings and equipment, as well as other major projects and improvements. The project of the moment is a major renovation of the Chapel, about which, I hope to be able to write more next month.