Dungannon Integrated College gets free heating all year round

By Gordon Adair
District Journalist

Published

A stiff breeze blows across the playing fields at Dungannon Integrated College in County Tyrone, perched as they are at the top of a hill.

image captionA view of the college in the distance, from the position of the factory's huge cooling fans

It is something, I have no doubt, to which any student who has stood shivering in their shorts on a cold November day would attest.

A couple of years ago, the college's neighbours, Austrian-owned packaging firm Greiner, thought perhaps it would be a good idea to harness that breeze to help them with the cooling process in their factory.

They approached the school about buying a small strip of land to allow them to install fans.

This kicked off a relationship that was eventually to lead to an unprecedented situation where the school waved goodbye to its annual heating costs of £40,000.

The school is now heated, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, completely free, by Greiner.

So how did this happen?

Cooling fans

Greiner's business is plastic packaging; yoghurt pots, butter tubs, etc. To form plastic like this you have to heat it, form it, then cool it - quickly.

For cooling, Greiner use huge fans that capture that breeze I mentioned. But what to do with the heat they're removing?

They have, for some time, used it to heat their own factory, but there was still lots simply being pumped out into the atmosphere.

At some point, the idea was mooted that they could heat the college.

Its principal, Andrew Sleeth, admits he did not take the suggestion entirely seriously at first, but gradually he came to realise that this was more than idle talk from Greiner.

Now, two specially-designed pipes carrying hot water plunge into the ground just next to Greiner's massive cooling fans.

They run a metre under the ground, all the way to the neighbouring school.

'Huge boost'

Not only do Greiner supply the heat, they also spent £90,000 of their own money on installing the system, an amount matched by the Department of Education.

"It's an absolutely huge boost for the school," said Mr Sleeth.

"We can hardly believe it and certainly people in the community, when they find out we are getting free heat, they say 'it's unbelievable; how did you manage that?'."

The principal says the benefits go beyond the financial, considerable though those are.

"There are many educational benefits as well," he said. "Our technology, physics and geography departments are all interested in this project and are beginning to work with the engineers and physics people from Greiner to see how we can bring this into the classroom and make it real for the students."

Greiner's chief executive, Jarak Zasadzinski, says it is the long-established policy of the family-owned company, which has some 30 factories across Europe, to act in a way that benefits their host community.

'Innovation'

He said: "Wherever you go, the idea and philosophy is the same; support the local community and push the business so that the local community is going to go with us, not against us. That's always rule number one."

Education Minister John O'Dowd officially launched the scheme. His department part-funded it. Money well spent, he maintains.

Speaking at the launch, Mr O'Dowd said: "It's a project that shows recycling, it shows an environmental responsibility, it shows a social responsibility."

His counterpart from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, Arlene Foster, also attended the unveiling.

"Jarek [Greiner's CEO], of course, benefits from this collaboration as well," she said.

"He knows that if you get young people interested in innovation and interested in industry, then they will come to him and work with him. And I think that is a very good model."