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New chillers keeping campus cool

July 1, 2010

By Gerard Dziuba

The NIU campus recently got a little quieter, a lot greener and much, much cooler.

A new chiller plant brought on-line this spring is replacing noisy, outdated air conditioning units across the east side of campus, switching them over to cooling systems that utilize chilled water instead of ozone depleting fluorocarbons.

The new chilled water plant building on the northeast corner of the Campus Life Building parking lot houses four new chiller units and feeds super-chilled water to an underground pipe systems that loops around the east end of campus, said Jeff Daurer,  director of capital budgeting and planning for the Division of Finance and Facilities.

melting ice

So far, the pipe has been connected to the music, art, psychology/math buildings, the Founders Memorial Library and Montgomery Hall. The connection to eight more buildings is expected to begin in the fall, said Ronald Beldon, a mechanical engineer with the university’s Division Finance and Facilities. Those five buildings contain 10 air-conditioning chillers, ranging in age from 37 to 43 years old. The units contain 12,930 pounds of CFC refrigerants which harm stratospheric ozone and contribute to atmospheric warming, Beldon said.

The new chillers were needed to replace cooling systems that outlived their useful lifespan years ago, Daurer said. Relics of the old systems can be seen and heard in outdoor ground-level air conditioners near Wirtz and Altgeld halls.

The four new air conditioning chillers at the plant contain 6,400 pounds of HCFC refrigerant. It has very low impact on stratospheric ozone and zero impact on atmospheric warming.

“Eventually, the old units will be gone,” Daurer said.  “When they are, the east side of the campus will be much quieter.”

Using a central chilling plant is also a big energy save, according to Beldon.

“The chiller system is much more energy efficient.,” Beldon said.  “There’s fewer moving parts; it’s like going from a car that gets 15 miles per gallon to one that gets 45 miles a gallon. It also will take fewer man-hours to maintain which will save the university money.”

How much the university saves will be seen after a summer or two, Beldon said.

Connecting the eight additional buildings to the system will not be as intrusive as connecting the first five, Daurer said. Getting the first round of buildings online required the digging of trenches and rerouting of traffic to lay the pipe from the chilling station to the buildings. Connecting the other buildings will entail extending the pipes from one to 10 feet and making needed upgrades to the buildings.

The buildings tentatively schedule to connect this fall are: Adams, Altgeld, Willston and Wirtz halls, health services and the campus security building, Holmes Student Center, Campus Life and Swen Parson/Lowden Hall.