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Heat shutoff explained by facilities director

Heat was turned off from the week of Oct. 28 until Nov. 7, according to an announcement on the Portal from vice president of Marketing & Communications, Suzanne English.

This was due to “forecasts calling for temperatures in the low 60s,” the message read, though the heat would return “when temperatures [were] expected to dip” on Nov. 7.

Douglass Eppley, director of facilities, also provided an explanation: a leak in the steam lines in the tunnel near the Carey Center needed to be repaired.

“The only way to do the repair was to shut down, let the pipes cool off and release the pressure,” Eppley said, since the steam lines are extremely hot and under pressure. After the repairs were completed, “the process to fire the boilers and bring the heat back up” was completed.

Switching between heating and cooling is difficult for several reasons, Eppley explained.

One reason he gave was that “most of the piping does double duty: the same pipe that has the hot water for heat is also the same pipe that is used to cool the building.” Switching these pipes from providing heat or coldness or vice versa is a “lengthy process,” Eppley said.

The second reason was that much of the cooling equipment gets winterized, meaning shutoff, drained or treated, so that it will not break during the winter.

“It takes several days to turn off the heating equipment, turn on the cooling equipment and get the water from hot temperature to cold temperature. Then, several days to reverse the process back,” Eppley said. “We do slow down the boiler plant as much as possible when there is a hot spell in the midst of cold weather.”

FMO monitors the boiler plant, used to provide heat, 24/7 while in use, he said, and maintains other temperature equipment.

Eppley said the seasons of spring and fall mark transitions in switching between heating and cooling. In addition, weather conditions, daytime temperatures, nighttime temperatures and whether it is rainy or sunny are also used to determine when to make a switch, he said.

Students shared their own experiences with campus temperatures.

Junior environmental science major Matthew Balas reported that he could tell that the heat was turned off recently, even though the temperature in his Aurelius dorm room has been suitable by his standards, saying that he prefers “a bit of a chill.”

In general; however, buildings such as Alfred, Wimmer, Aurelius and Placid Hall are very drafty and chilly, although this does not seem to greatly bother people, he said.

Balas said the library is an exception to this cold trend.

“The library is incredibly hot and it feels like I am roasting alive in a vegetable steamer,” he said.

Alison Boyer, senior integrated science major and work study in the theater, said it became “very, very cold” in the theater the week the heat was off, noting that many people in the theater complained.

She also noted that the temperature in Wimmer, where she lives, has been “off and on.”

“When they run the heat on, it can get really hot, so I keep my [AC fan on] to keep it more comfortable in the room,” she said. “When it's cold, it's hard to keep it warm, so I use lots of blankets.”

Boyer also said that the windows in Wimmer being open can be “a little annoying” when it is cold outside.

“A nice benefit of Wimmer is not having to leave the building for classes and such,” she said. “When the windows are open, it kind of ruins that.”

In general, Boyer explained, the temperatures in campus buildings are “always odd because they are always changing” – sometimes “excessively hot,” sometimes “freezing.”

“I have been here for four years and I still cannot figure out the pattern of the temperature,” she said.

Boyer stated that these are not major issues, and that she has dealt with them by how she dresses, such as by bringing a jacket just in case.

Sydney Schoff, senior communication major, said the temperature in her Rooney apartment has been “fine overall.” She has a thermostat and typically leaves the place around 68 degrees.

Schoff mentioned that her previous time in Gerard, however, was too hot for her liking during cooler months, necessitating her to open her window. The temperature situation in Saint Benedict, she said, was similar to her time now in Rooney.

Many classrooms in Prep Hall, she added, are freezing, and the lobby of Rooney was “very cold” at the beginning of this year while now it’s “pretty hot.”

“I don’t think I would be able to spend an excessive amount of time there,” she said.

Eppley gave background on how the heating and cooling systems work.

Most heat for the campus is produced at a boiler plant, which was converted three years ago from coal-burning to natural gas-burning, Eppley explained, noting that gas is much cleaner and more efficient.

The steam made from the gas is converted to hot water and then circulated through many of the campus buildings to provide heat. This, he said, is a central heating plant.

The Fred Rogers Center and Dupre Science Pavilion, which are certified Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold, use geothermal well systems for heating and cooling, Eppley said, and “miscellaneous smaller systems” that make heat with natural gas or electric are used on campus as well.

As far as cooling goes, Eppley said that some buildings use “chillers” that remove heat from water in pipes to make cold water, which are piped through buildings to provide cooling. Many smaller HVAC units provide cooling throughout the campus, he said.

Some buildings do not have air conditioning systems at all, except for the individual air conditioners used, Eppley said, and there is not a central cooling plant on campus.

He also explained how heating and cooling decisions are made during construction.

“New building construction is required to comply with the current local building codes to determine the heating and cooling requirements of a building,” Eppley said. “Existing older buildings may have had different requirements based on the building code in place at the time of construction.”

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