This is the week the NIU community thanks the not-so unsung heroes at the NIU Heating Plant.
Recently, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunities, the State of Illinois Water Survey/University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources commended the plant and its staff for superior water quality in its heating and cooling systems.
“This is quite an honor,” said Kevin Howard, chief engineer of the heating plant. “When you consider some of the underground pipes we use are several decades old and some of our boilers and equipment are 50 years old, it’s quite an honor.”
But it’s not a new honor for the NIU Heating Plant.
For the last 10 years, it has received the highest marks from the same agencies. The decade-long winning streak is the longest since the agencies started monitoring the systems 63 years ago.
Some of the other Illinois colleges and universities to which NIU is compared for the grading system are the College of Medicine in Rockford, Southern Illinois University’s Edwardsville and Springfield campuses and the University of Illinois’s Chicago and Springfield campuses.
NIU is also compared to 30 state correctional facilities.
All submit weekly water treatment reports to the agencies. Representatives from the state’s water survey agency also visit the DeKalb campus six times a year to inspect the heating plant.
The trick in keeping the plant running efficiently is making sure a good water treatment program is used to treat the water and preserve the pipes, Howard said.
Then, there’s the quality of water used: it needs to be extremely pure. Lastly, there’s the matter of maintaining and tuning the systems and the equipment: It’s a team effort and requires the support from everyone at the plant.
When all are properly monitored and constantly adjusted, the heat exchangers and boilers are scale-free and work at their best. In turn, less natural gas is used for the heating and less electricity is required to operate air conditioning systems.
Proper maintenance and water treatment also prevents the spread of disease by inhibiting the growth of bacteria in the water.
“The university has steam distribution systems that stretch over a mile,” Howard said. “A lot of work goes into maintaining it. We’re very proud of all who are involved in maintaining it.”
by Gerard Dziuba