Siting Of Geothermal Wells Easier At Fort River


A proposed location for a geothermal well field at Fort River School is southwest of the existing school building. Photo: Toni Cunningham

The siting of a geothermal well field, a desirable component of a new “net zero” elementary school, would be easier and less disruptive at the Fort River site than at Wildwood, according to comments made by Tim Cooper, project manager with DiNisco Design. 

A geothermal, or ground-source-heat-pump system, is a heating/cooling (HVAC) system that transfers heat to or from the ground, taking advantage of the relative constancy of temperatures of the earth through the seasons. Such systems are among the most energy-efficient technologies for providing HVAC and water heating, using less energy than can be achieved by other systems. The new elementary school, wherever it will be located, would benefit from such a system in order to achieve the town’s goal of building a “net zero” energy school.

In preliminary “test fit” plans presented by Cooper at an Elementary School Building Committee meeting on February 4, one location identified for a geothermal well field at Fort River is southwest of the existing building, although Cooper noted there were other potential sites as well. It would require taking the southern entrance driveway out of commission during construction of a new school, but since Fort River has two access roads, he said it would be doable and wouldn’t impact parking or the functioning of the existing school. This location would be close to the new building which, Cooper said, is important for the system to operate efficiently.

Fort River, the larger of the two sites at 30 acres (versus 14 acres at Wildwood), Cooper said, has a larger usable area than Wildwood, even after accounting for regulatory and floodplain setbacks. In addition, he said that at Fort River, all the utilities are for the site itself whereas at Wildwood, some utilities cross the site to other properties and would have to be relocated before construction can begin.

The location Cooper identified at the Wildwood site in an all-new construction scenario is west of the existing building where part of the single entrance road, half of the north parking lot and all of the west parking lot are currently located. “All parking requirements plus construction for a new building would be affected by geothermal [at Wildwood],” Cooper said.

An alternative location for a geothermal well field for a Wildwood project was proposed by Cooper — on athletic fields belonging to the Amherst Regional Middle School, down the hill from Wildwood, on land owned by the Regional School District. If that site were selected, the athletic fields would be inaccessible to middle school students during installation. The acceptability of this option would be determined by the Regional School Committee and the Massachusetts School Building Authority. “The cost of replacing that field may be a better opportunity than all the phasing that would have to happen [to locate the well field within the boundaries of the Wildwood property],” Cooper said.  

Once the geothermal wells are dug and the work completed, the ground above the well field could be used for athletic fields, play structures, or paved areas. “There is little to no need for continued access to the wells,” Cooper said. “Most of the maintenance would be in the building where the piping from the wells comes together.”

In addition to an all-geothermal system, hybrid systems involving air-source-heat-pumps combined with geothermal are being explored, which would allow for a smaller geothermal well field. 

The potential for siting geothermal wells and solar panels at each site will be one factor in the decision about where the new school will be built – a decision expected by May. This will be discussed further at the School Building Committee’s net zero subcommittee meeting on February 10 at 9:30 a.m. 

For more information on the school building project, see

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