Boiler System Update: Rising Steam, Lowering Temperatures

Outside the Kellogg Center and Robinson Hall, a section of the boiler system is under construction. Since Jan. 14, buildings located near the leak have experienced faults in heating and temperature regulation (Photo by Killian Altayeb).

On Tuesday, students across campus received an email from Assistant Dean of Community Living Clark Dawood regarding an update on the boiler system repairs on Hannah Street. During a time when temperatures continue to drop, students have voiced concerns about heating and safety.

Howell junior and Community Assistant Vaughn Vinson said that he found the incident “quite shocking.”

“I’d like to assume it’s a very complicated process and it’s taking more time to get done, especially with very cold temperatures out there,” Vinson said.

Mount Pleasant junior Taylor Strom said via Instagram direct message that “it’s super ridiculous that they’re ‘fixing’ things the day or two that all the students come back. Having reasonable temperatures for dorms and water is the bare minimum.”

In the email sent to students on Tuesday students were advised to avoid any active utility work or dig sites, causing students to have to take different routes to surrounding buildings while also avoiding the snow. 

“There’s going to be active work in these areas probably over the next couple of months because we won’t be able to lay sidewalks in the winter,” Dawood said. 

Orange caution fence surrounds one of the active dig sites near the KC where open pipes and steam are feet away from the road and sidewalk (Photo by Bella Bakeman).

Community Living was first made aware of the problem at 2 p.m. on Sunday, two hours after students began checking in for the spring semester, Dawood said.

“We were welcoming residents back and facilities notified me that they believed there was a leak along the steam line,” Dawood said. “The boiler was giving indication that there was trouble on the line and there was a water loss.”

Facilities’ goal over the weekend was to dig and identify where along the line the leak was. However, due to the line being encased in cement, safety regulations mandate that ground is broken six feet at a time until the problem is found.

According to the email sent to students from Dawood on Jan. 16, peripheral repairs made on Monday allowed boiler pressure to be raised and surrounding residences to retain heat in common areas between 65 and 72 degrees. Out of the buildings listed in the email, Mitchell Towers may still have some rooms with cooler indoor temperatures due to its distance from the physical plant and building structure.

On campus, the water running alongside the boiler pipe heated quickly, resulting in the release of vapor from the pipes. This created the appearance of steam rising from the ground.

Issues with the amount of steam located in and near the active site were repaired Wednesday by facilities. 

An excavator digs up a section of the sidewalk. In freezing temperatures, warm water causes vapor to be released into the air (Photo by Bella Bakeman).

“It became clear that there actually wasn’t a leak along the steam pipe,” Dawood said. “The problem was with the condensate return.”

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, “When steam transfers its heat in a manufacturing process, heat exchanger or heating coil, it reverts to a liquid phase called condensate.”

For Dawood and the Community Living staff, ensuring student safety and comfort during these changes is their first priority.

“Over the course of the very cold last few days, students were saying their rooms aren’t heating,” Dawood said. “If your room isn’t heating or not retaining heat, please let us know so we can help.” 

Over the past week, Community Living has delivered space heaters to students as well as relocated students while repairs are being made. They have also met with Community Assistants to address possible concerns.

“There were lots of questions about what happens if the power goes out or the heat goes out,” Vinson said. “They essentially told us with it being such a new issue, they would have to just play it by ear.”

In terms of the repair timeline, Dawood said the primary issue that caused concern on Jan. 14 has been patched. 

“We’re waiting until it’s warmer over the next couple weeks to actually go in and take the whole section of affected pipe out,” Dawood said. 

A facilities meeting on Tuesday confirmed the next step in repairs, which is to slowly bring boiler capacity up while maintaining building safety.

“The people in our facilities management department are fantastic. You don’t see them or know them in the same way you know other departments, but they’re always here,” Dawood said. 

Dawood and his team are prepared to work with both facilities and students during this transition period.

“We have student staff on every floor in the major residence halls. We have professional staff on campus. Community Safety is here 24 hours a day,” Dawood said. “If you feel like you need something and you’re not getting it, those are the places to go.”

Students with further questions and/or concerns are welcome to meet with the Community Living staff, contact campus safety or submit a work order.

About Killian Altayeb 25 Articles
Killian Altayeb is from Novi, Michigan and is a second-year student at Albion College. They are a Biochemistry Major with a journalistic interest in all things public health. Contact Killian via email at NA12@albion.edu.

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