U plant lets St. Paul campus chill out

Angela Gray

Historic preservation and energy efficiency are at the heart of the St. Paul campus with the new chiller plant at 1518 Cleveland Ave. N.

Completed last summer, the chiller plant upgrades and improves the reliability of the chilled water supply system to campus buildings. The system works like a car radiator, sending water to a building’s cooling system, which is a series of coils. To produce cold air, which is released through vents, the water must absorb heat from the building’s air. The water then travels back to the chiller plant, and the process is repeated.

The result is annual and ongoing savings for the University, increased energy efficiency and increased reliability in the St. Paul chilling systems.

Forty-one independent cooling systems are installed in 33 buildings on the St. Paul campus.

Engineer Jay Denny said 15 of those buildings are hooked up to the central chilling system, including Borlaug Hall, McNeal Hall and McGrath Library.

Lori-Anne Williams, communications director for University Services, said the plant building used to be the Health and Sciences building.

“For a while it just sat there and there really wasn’t any use for it,” she said.

Roger Wagner, capital planning project manager, said the St. Paul campus used to have individual chillers in each building.

“The existing chillers were on their last leg and were old and inefficient,” he said.

He said having one central chiller plant cuts down on maintenance costs and is much more efficient and reliable.

Wagner said he hired design consultants and an energy management group to work on the building.

“We gutted the entire building so the only things left were the walls, and put in floors at different heights to accommodate the chillers and equipment,” he said.

University workers also tore up streets and buildings on the St. Paul campus to create an extensive distribution pipe system to circulate water to other buildings.

Jerome Malmquist, director of facilities management, said the University did not tear down the former Health and Sciences building and instead repaired it, which saved money in the end.

“It’s our utilities mantra to push for low cost, high reliability while remaining environmentally friendly,” he said.

The project was expected to cost $34 million, but in the end cost $20.4 million, with $6 million needed for the next phase, which includes creating an electrical switch station and adding more buildings into the loop of chillers on the St. Paul campus.

“The next phase also involves improving some of the buildings by replacing coils and valves to increase their chilling efficiency,” Malmquist said.

“Ultimately, we want to work to serve the entire St. Paul campus by connecting all of the buildings to the chiller plant,” he said.

“All of that will come later on after we get positive results from the Legislature,” he said. “We hope for funding in the next round which is what we need to move forward.”

The chiller plant was funded through the state Legislature as part of the University’s capital budget.

Only from May 15 to Sept. 15 is the chiller plant in full operation; during winter, a select few of the plant’s cooling systems function to control the heat generated by computers and other electronic equipment in the campus’ buildings.

The East and West banks have chiller systems. Northrop auditorium has a plant, and there is one on Washington Avenue Southeast that serves the Academic Health Center.

Malmquist said, “All of the University’s chiller plants have proven effective, which justified the creation of the St. Paul plant.”

Wagner agreed, noting that the University is not alone.

“I know most of the Big Ten schools have chiller plants and everything has worked well for them so far.”