When on the Southside of campus many students notice the tall, dark-red brick buildings looming over them as they walk to class. These buildings— the Heating Plant and Central Chilling Plant— are two of the most important buildings on campus when it comes to students, faculty and staff comfort. Soon, the buildings will face an overhaul.
The plants are being altered to accommodate the new energy on campus— geothermal power. The Heat Plant on campus will be scaled down by the end of Phase One of the geothermal project while the Chilling Plant will be reduced later in the project.
Jim Lowe, director of Engineering, Construction, and Operations, said the geothermal project will eliminate two out of four coal burners and three out of five chillers.
However, some chillers and boilers will be left for replacement parts and as a backup in case of a problem.
The project is scheduled to be finished in 10 years, but Ball State is still looking for funding for Phase Two of the project. The university began construction on the $66 million project in May 2009. The project is currently funded in part by the United States Department of Energy and various endowments according to Ball State's Website.
While many students are not aware of the importance of these power plants, crews at the Heating Plant work to maintain the comfort of students in a potentially dangerous atmosphere.
Lowe said crews work 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days out of the year to ensure the university is properly heated and cooled, maintaining the comfort of everyone on campus.
He said the crews are responsible for maintaining the operation, including pumps conveyors and making sure the discharged coal ash is loaded up and brought to a site where it is reclaimed in the mine.
The fuel is heated in a chamber to temperatures as high as 14,000 degrees with steam around 360 degrees, Lowe said.
"[The plants] are a very controlled operation. We are heating a liquid to a gaseous state under a very high pressure and they need to be monitored 24/7," Lowe said. "Every minute of every day of every week of every month of every year there is someone in that plant. It will never be left empty. The reason is safety."
Lowe said with the geothermal project switch over, employees working at the plants could possibly move over to working with the new energy.
"We found a way over the years to run the plant with a skeletal crew and do it efficiently," he said. "When there is an available person they may be redefined as a geothermal worker."
With many changes happening around campus, the Heating Plant and Central Chilling plant is just among one of those big changes over time. The geothermal project is on track for the switch over to geothermal on the north side of campus next fall.
The Central Chill Plant
The Central Chill Plant was constructed in 1966. Today, the Chill Plants' five chillers provide air conditioning and dehumidification for over 3,000,000 square feet of facilities. The chill plant can produce approximately 2,400,000 tons of cooling during peak time periods.
Ball State's first central heating plant was built in 1924. The plant currently houses seven boilers that provide steam for heating, domestic hot water, cooking, laundry and sterilization of surgical instruments for the University and Ball Memorial Hospital.
Source: Ball State University website