Steam line burst near Earl Hall; Solar panel project moves forward

Tamonda GriffithsNews Writer

An approximately 25-year-old steam line has burst outside of Earl Hall, and according to Robert Sheeley, associate vice president for capital budgeting & facilities operations, the condensation, not steam, emerging from the ground alerted there is a hot water leak underground.

The university became aware of the leak about a month or two ago, he said. Because of the age of the pipe, Sheeley said the leak was not “without expectation.”

“Sometimes a pipe will last 35 years, so you don’t just go in and dig it up,” said Sheeley.

His biggest concern, Sheeley said, was the potential absolute failure of the pipeline, which currently provides heat to the Lyman Center.

Loss of heat to Lyman would be “unacceptable,” said Sheeley.

“The backup plan was installing the temporary boiler which has been installed and it’s operational,” said Sheeley.

In a statement to the university, Sheeley stated, “The boiler is necessary to provide building heat should the line rupture once exposed and when we cut the old lines out for replacement.”

When incidents like this occur, it is important to be “very aggressive,” said Sheeley, and be able to address the issue.

Larry Tomascak, programming, marketing, event management director of the Lyman Center said internally, a series of heating coils were replaced which specifically affected the heating of the theater in Lyman and some offices. With the installation of the boiler there is heat for the spring semester.

“We’re ready to go with the spring semester, you know, we’ve got events coming up, theater department programs and stuff and students are taking classes,” said Tomascak.

The facilities operations have been “terrific to work with” during this process, said Tomascak.

Sheeley said the piping to replace the burst steam line arrives on January, 28.

The trenching, or digging up of the area, will be isolated and fenced off for safety reasons, said Sheeley, but the condensation and trenching process is of no biological danger to students.

However, Sheeley said there will be some inconveniences during the construction processing. The area around Founders Gate will be fenced off during that time, Sheeley said.

The cost of repair is approximately $80,000, said Sheeley. The university has companies contracted through the state and are equipped to address the problem.

“That’s good, because if we have emergencies like this, we don’t have to put it out to bid and by putting it out to bid it takes time,” said Sheeley, “We don’t have time. We got to get this repair done.”

In addition, several thousand solar panels have been installed around various parking lots and garages on Southern’s western portion of campus, said Sheeley.

The panels are located in the back of parking lot 9, on a hill behind the Neff hall parking garage, and on top of the Wintergreen parking garage.

“[Solar panels] have taken up no parking spaces,” said Sheeley, “except in the dogleg in lot 9.”

The parking spaces used for the solar panels are spaces that are “hardly ever used,” said Sheeley.

The panels were provided through a partnership with General Electric and Connecticut Green Bank, said Suzanne Huminski, the sustainability coordinator for Southern.

“We are buying the power from [the state and GE] at a reduced rate for 20 years,” said Sheeley. “We have no maintenance requirements, they take care of everything.”

Huminski said it would have been a “big upfront expense” of several million dollars to purchase the solar panels on its own.

“The way that the financing was setup.. was a very important factor in making sure that building the solar panel project didn’t take away from a different project that would help faculty and students,” said Huminski. “We didn’t want the solar project to mean we couldn’t build a new building or fix up a classroom.”

According to Sheeley, the university will save about $60,000 to $70,000 a year in electricity.

However, the exact reduced rate the university will have to pay for them has not be determined.

He said although the solar panels have been installed, the panels cannot be put into full effect until an agreement is signed with United Illuminating Company.

Huminski and Sheeley said the official date of operation is not that far off in the future.

Huminski said ever since the university pledged to the Climate leadership commitment in the early 2000s, they had started “actively planning” for this project.

Solar panels need clear, unobstructed access to sunlight in order to operate as efficiently as possible.

The sunlight absorbed is then inverted or transformed from direct current of electricity into an alternating current, said Huminski.

Alternating current, she said, is more efficient in terms of “moving vast quantities” from one area to another.

“If solar panels are going to be on a roof,” said Huminski, “it needs to be on a roof that’s new or close to new.”

Huminski said both, roofs and solar panels “don’t last forever” and need to be replaced at least every 25 years or so.

If solar panels are installed on the ground, Huminski said the concerns are the  possible “ecological” surroundings and whether or not that spot could have possibly been used as a construction site for a new building.

Huminski and Sheeley said the eastern side of Southern’s campus is the next location in the continuation of the solar
panel project.

Photo Credit: August Pelliccio

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