Turning up heat is no easy feat

Although freezing temperatures and snow only hit last week, the University has been preparing for cold weather since September.

Rebecca Ernst

With the advent of last weekâÄôs premature snowstorm, it may come as a relief to know that the University of Minnesota finally has the heat turned on in all of its Twin CitiesâÄô campus buildings. But with more than 250 buildings on the campus, some of which date back to the 1800s , switching from cold to hot is no easy feat. The official heating season for the University is from Oct. 15 to April 15 , but each year, Facilities Management has to play it by ear, said Brad Hoff, chief administrative officer for Facilities Management. In the fall, after temperatures drop, they often rise again, making it difficult for Facilities Management to decide when the time is right to switch from cooling to heating, Hoff said. The switch happened earlier than usual this year, said Andy Madsen , facilities supervisor for the East Bank District of the University, due to the sudden drop in temperature over the past week. Most people donâÄôt understand what goes into the process, said Greg Berger, associate director for the East Bank District , one of four districts assigned to different areas of campus by Facilities Management. âÄúThe first cold day youâÄôll get a call to turn it on,âÄù Berger said. âÄúBut then when it gets warm youâÄôll get a call to turn it off.âÄù Madsen echoed BergerâÄôs sentiment. âÄúI think a lot of people think what we do is flipping a switch,âÄù he said, âÄúand thatâÄôs not what it is.âÄù In fact, the process is incredibly complicated, taking about 100 people six to eight weeks to completely make the switch. âÄúItâÄôs time-consuming, and itâÄôs stuff that has to be done every year,âÄù he said. For many of the UniversityâÄôs older buildings, this means mechanics and pipe fitters go directly to the building and spend hours in a confined, hot little space turning on its steam valves in order to bring heat to the building, Madsen said. The process is not without its dangers, either. For instance, without proper care, the University could face thousands of dollars worth of busted pipes. âÄúThereâÄôs a lot at stake,âÄù Madsen said. âÄúYou donâÄôt want to ruin equipment, you know, you donâÄôt want to bust coils; you donâÄôt want to ruin towers.âÄù In addition, the wide age range of buildings leads to a variety of heating and cooling systems, many of which are antiquated. âÄúWe have buildings that are older than our grandparents and buildings that are newer than my children,âÄù Hoff said. Some buildings donâÄôt have a central cooling system, like Folwell Hall , which means there are about 900 window air conditioners in the East Bank District. Each AC unit must be shut down and winterized in the fall and then turned back on in the spring. âÄúThat requires you not to go to each building, but literally each room that has an air conditioner,âÄù Berger said. The cost in time and price is high, but one of the caveats of living in Minnesota is you have to deal with extreme heat and extreme cold, Hoff said. âÄúItâÄôs definitely an expensive process,âÄù he said. âÄúItâÄôs kind of the nature of the beast.âÄù