|Heating plant supervisor Mike Burke pauses in one of the new lockable manholes that provide access to the steam tunnels.
During the past decade, numerous building projects have added about 600,000 square feet to campus – an increase of 25 percent. The circulatory system that connects and heats this massive infrastructure is a network of steam pipes.
Project at a Glance:
“In the old days, they just took cast-iron pipes and buried them in the dirt,” says Robert Duringer, UM vice president for administration and finance. “When you have hot steam running through these things for five or six decades, they rot out and leak, and over time your steam plant becomes less efficient.”
The University started placing some pipes in tunnels in the 1960s so technicians could access and repair them, but most steam lines remained unreachable without digging. Then in 2007, campus started a major, multiyear effort to replace and upgrade the steam distribution system by placing it in tunnels. The new tunnels are much roomier than the older ones.
“During this project we found all kinds of graffiti and artifacts left over from 30 or 40 years ago,” Duringer says. “People used to go down in those tunnels to party or whatever. We have them all cleaned out, and they now all have lockable manhole covers to keep people out.”
UM will have 2.81 miles of steam tunnels beneath campus when the project concludes in 2010. The tunnel heights vary from 5 to 7 feet, offering room for workers and their equipment.
“Since we have done this project, our steam plant has become 7 percent more efficient,” Duringer says. “We are saving money because it works better. And the pipes should last much longer than they did in the past.”
As a campus maintenance project, the steam tunnels used more state tax dollars than most UM construction efforts.
“It wasn’t a very glamorous project, but it was absolutely necessary,” Duringer says.
Cost: $10.2 Million
Start Date: Summer 2007
Completion: Summer 2010
Funding: 100% State
Unique Feature: 14,840 Feet Long