Heat and Light for the University of Northern Colorado

Author's note: This is a partial chapter from my 1988 Masters' Thesis, A Century of Planning and Construction at the University of Northern Colorado, written under the able supervision of Professor Stephen Powers.

The first heating plant was constructed south of the Normal School Building in 1901 and was expanded in 1911 and 1921 to serve additional buildings. Although this plant had been recognized as obsolete and dangerous in the 1920's and an appropriation of $120,000 was made in 1931 for its replacement, no funds were available to cover the appropriation.

Fall 1932 found the plant virtually inoperable, threatening to close the college. The State Auditing Board permitted the college trustees to proceed with the construction of a new plant and to pay the expenses with vouchers issued against warrants to be issued by the State Treasurer. The old plant finally breathed its last on December 23, 1932, a week before the new plant was able to generate heat. The vouchers and warrants remained unpaid, and the 1933 legislature did not address the issue during its regular session, so a special legislative session was called in August of that year to consider an emergency appropriation.

The 1933 plant burned pulverized coal, as had the older facility, but the location of the new plant adjacent to the new faculty apartment building had the undesirable environmental impact of depositing coal soot on the faculty's drying laundry. The soot became worse in 1939 when additional boilers were installed. The option of burning alternate, cleaner, fuels had been preempted by the passage by the 1937 Legislature of the Coal Heating Law. That law mandated the use of Colorado coal for heating in any state facility then using coal.

An unforeseen effect of the Coal Heating Law was a lack of flexibility that forced the College to shut down in the fall of 1946. A railroad labor dispute had made the delivery of coal impossible and on the Monday before Thanksgiving the administration was forced to cancel the remaining classes of the fall quarter. Since finals were cancelled as well, grades were assigned as of the date of the announcement.

This closing must have had a significant psychological impact on the college administration, for ten years later when yet a new heating plant was proposed, the ability to utilize multiple fuels was a primary requirement.

A location for a new heating plant was identified as early as 1950 on a parcel of east campus land adjacent to the Union Pacific railroad tracks. This location avoided the cost of trucking coal to the boilers, which remained a significant expense. The repeal of the Coal Heating Law in 1953 opened up the options of utilizing oil and natural gas for heating. The latter two fuels held a price advantage over coal at that time, and economics dictated that the plant would utilize natural gas as the primary fuel with fuel oil stored in underground tanks as a backup source. The cost of a plant that would also burn coal was considered excessive, yet the new heating plant went up next to the tracks anyway, opening in 1959. Three utility reports were completed in the period 1954- 1959. The first two, "Utility Report, Colorado State College of Education," prepared by Rupert J. Fooks, Consulting Engineer, in September, 1954, and "Engineering Reporting Covering the Central Heating Plant, Basic Fuel and Related Matters at Colorado State College College of Education," prepared by George A. Inglis, Consulting Engineer in February, 1955, produced conflicting recommendations. The 1962 "Physical Plant Development" report of the college stated that "It was evident when the findings were considered that they stemmed from premises which were far from uniform and were unreliable as a guide to action." A third study done by the Riley Engineering Corporation of Denver, "Colorado State College Central Heating System Development," was commissioned "To insure bold thinking for the future and to remove for at least a decade the impasse which had prevailed during three anxious years, 1954-1956." The Riley survey and report recommended an early abandonment of the 1932 heating plant and the construction of a new plant on the east campus. The first phase, consisting of the building, one boiler, piping to the central campus, and a tunnel from 19th Street to Cranford Hall, was completed by January of 1960 at a cost of $767,227. Riley did most of the subsequent design of the campus heating systems.

The plant generates high temperature hot water, which is pumped through pipes buried under 19th Street to the buildings on the central campus. The plan was to extend these pipes to the new west campus under a $427,000 project that was to be completed at the same time as the new laboratory school. The Colorado State Planning Division, however, voted to defer action on the heating system addition at the same time they voted to approve the new Laboratory School. Their reason was quite straightforward:

An analysis of the building mill levy funds available at Colorado State College as of September 30, 1959, indicated that funds available are short by approximately $200,000 of the amount needed to finance the Heating Plant System Construction. Under the circumstances, the latter project cannot be approved until the needed funds are provided.Letter from W. M. Williams, Director of Colorado State Planning Division to Dr. William R. Ross, October 19, 1959. Original in University archives.

Presented with the very real dilemma of being allowed to build a school building but not to heat it, President Ross and College Controller Glen C. Turner initiated a flurry of correspondence that was successful in obtaining a $200,000 appropriation from the 1960 Legislature, although with the proviso that it must be repaid from future mill levy collections. The bids on the heating project were taken the same day as the lab school bids and the building had heat when it opened.Correspondence from Ross and Turner to State Budget Director, State Senators and Representatives and the State Planning Division during January, 1960; Colorado. Session Laws (1960), 88-89.

From a historical perspective, the basic campus heating plant decisions must be analyzed in terms of the information that was known, or should have been known, at the time the decisions were made. The primary reason for locating the heating plant on the east campus was the proximity to existing rail transportation that facilitated the delivery and storage of coal. At the time (1958) that the primary study was conducted, gas and oil were selected as the fuels for the plant. The use of coal was considered, but rejected, even though the costs were quite similar. The energy crisis of 1973 marked the beginning of enormous price increases in natural gas and fuel oil.

The effect on the University was immediate. Natural gas became scarce and it became necessary to burn fuel oil, which was becoming very expensive. During the winter of 1973-1974 there was serious discussion about closing the University's buildings, as had been done in 1946. Fortunately, the crisis abated as sufficient energy became available, albeit at a much higher price. The legislature appropriated additional funds and dormitory rates were raised to pay for the added costs, while energy management became the order of the day.

Energy costs have since stabilized and it is possible to gauge the impact that alternative decisions would have made on the results. First of all, the administration's experience with coal had been a very unpleasant and expensive education. The annual ritual of bidding coal contracts took an enormous amount of time and the side effects of burning coal in an urban setting were much more serious than the dirty laundry problem. Natural gas has been utilized as the primary heating fuel with only minor interruptions over the years. Since deregulation of this fuel, future supplies appear to be assured. The operating economies of natural gas make it a preferable fuel. It is delivered through a pipe and requires no handling on the plant site.

Although certain savings could have been effected in fuel costs by utilizing coal, the additional costs associated with this material would have made its use unwarranted in the size of facility at the University of Northern Colorado. The location of the plant could be subject to some criticism from the added costs of delivering heat through over a mile of piping, but these arguments became moot with the signing of a cogeneration agreement with Thermo Light and Power, Inc. in 1985.

This facility, which will save over a million dollars a year in energy costs, was born out of 1984 discussions concerning the purchase of a standby generator for the new telephone system being installed in Gray Hall. Facilities director William A. Daigneau held a pre-bid meeting with interested generator salesmen, at which one of them asked him how the campus was heated. Upon hearing that the university had a central heating plant, the salesman, James Monroe, told how he could arrange for the university to have "free heat." The other salesman had a good laugh, but Daigneau put Monroe in touch with Rich McDermott, the campus energy manager.

The merits of Monroe's idea were clear to McDermott, and he spent much of the next year in investigating the concept and preparing a request for proposals. The successful proposal involved the use of land to the north of the heating plant on which an eighty megawatt gas turbine electrical generating station would be built, in return for which the university would receive heat cogenerated by the facility at no charge. This fifteen year agreement will result in a total of over twenty million dollars in avoided energy costs for the university, credit for which is due almost exclusively to McDermott's persistence in pushing the new concept through a remarkable maze of bureaucratic procedures.

Riley's 1958 report, which based the heating distribution system on the existing university property holdings, resulted in the use of direct buried pipe to connect the three campuses. The purchase of the Petrikin homesite in 1960 provided a site for the long sought College Center building and brought the west and central campuses within a hundred feet of each other. The schedule for the construction of the Laboratory School did not permit a redesign of the heating distribution system, resulting in heat for the College Center being pumped more than a mile through Bishop-Lehr and back to the east, although the newer building was only thirteen hundred feet from the central campus dormitories, served by the same distribution system.

The pipes under 19th Street had been encapsulated with an asphaltic powder that was supposed to insulate and protect them. The covering had completely deteriorated by 1985 and $850,000 was appropriated the following year to dig up and re-insulate the pipes. An alternative plan was developed to abandon the piping between the west and central campuses and utilize the funds to connect the utility tunnel systems on the two campuses with a new tunnel between the University Center and Wiebking Hall. This new tunnel will also allow the installation of electrical power cables and computer connections between the major buildings on the campus, replacing an old sewer pipe used for this purpose.

An additional construction project was completed in Bishop-Lehr. In 1967 a booster pumping station for the high temperature hot water system was installed in a basement room of the school. Documents from that time outline how this $37,300 system was necessary to insure adequate pressure in all of the new buildings being built on the west campus. The pumps were tested and never again turned on, as the pumps in the heating plant proved capable of maintaining pressure throughout the entire system. The pumps, still in excellent condition, are to be moved to the central heating plant as replacement pumps, saving a significant sum over the cost of new pumps. Kepner Hall was remodeled several times after the laboratory school moved out in early 1962 to accommodate several different programs. The School of Business inherited the building after Michener Library opened in 1971 and was able to experience Kepner's decline into utter and complete decrepitude. By 1985 the building resembled nothing so much as an abandoned warehouse, despite having a full complement of faculty and students utilizing it.

Largely due to the talents, vision, persistence and occasional obstinacy of a few individuals, Kepner Hall received a $5.2 million renovation that was completed in the fall of 1987. The result is the most beautiful and functional building on any college campus in Colorado. College of Business Dean William Duff and President Robert C. Dickeson deserve special credit for making this renovation successful.This author was project manager for the last several months of the Kepner Hall renovation and would also include the architect, John Knapp, and the contractor, Bob Forker of Cornerstone Builders, Inc. in those who deserve special credit for this building. On the other hand, this project raised the expectations of occupants of most other buildings on the campus, who would be advised that occasional obstinacy has little effect without talent, vision and persistence.

The discussion of the laboratory school buildings would be incomplete without including the laboratory school annex. That the "annex" is larger than the laboratory school is indicative of how education has changed over the years. In the first years of the Normal School, teacher education was all. As the institution grew and became a teacher's college, college of education, college, and finally a university, education remained the principal purpose of the institution, although now only a part of the larger whole.

The faculty of the Division of Education made a request to President Ross that a new building be constructed near the proposed new laboratory school to house general education classes, professional advanced classes, graduate study classes and seminars. The 1960 physical plant development program included this facility in the 1964-1965 time frame. The size was set at 60,000 square feet, as it was "not intended to house all Division of Education activities since many of them will be located in old structures and shared with other new space gained by subject matter divisions."

1962 Master Plan, 105-7, 144.

The proposed Division of Education classroom building was located on the high land to the south of the Laboratory School as one of several educational buildings. The belief that the Laboratory School should be apart from the college campus appears to have been forgotten, with the result that a direct path between the two major academic centers of the west and central campuses runs right through the Laboratory School.

The 1962 Perkins and Will plan details the education building at nearly 130,000 square feet, a result of the "split-campus" policy and a detailed study completed by the Educational Planning Service. After the adoption of the Frank L. Hope and Associates master plan in 1966, the proposed education building became the focal point for the east terminal of a west campus mall. Prior to the mall's completion, the education building was to front on Eleventh Avenue, "reversing frontage upon execution of the master plan." Funds for construction of McKee Hall, nearly three million dollars, of which the federal government paid approximately one-third, were appropriated by the legislature in 1966. Construction began in early September and the building was opened for classes on May 5, 1968.Perkins and Will Master Plan; Frank L. Hope and Associates Master Plan; "Educational Specifications for Education-Classroom Building," prepared by Educational Planning Service, n.d.; Colorado. Session Laws (1966), 106; Construction Project Application, Educational - Classroom Building, Project 1290, approved by Governor John A. Love on July 21, 1966.

The design of this building, named McKee Hall after noted faculty member Paul McKee, represented the latest thinking in classroom buildings. Movable partitions were included to accommodate classes of varying sizes, a good idea only as long as the partitions can actually move. The floor tracks tended to fill up with dirt and trash, making the operation very difficult. Classrooms also suffer from an inferior lighting design, typified by light bulbs being removed directly over a projection screen to facilitate use of an overhead projector, making the blackboard unusable due to lack of direct light.This author has attended classes in this building and observed these conditions personally, noting here only the worst. The chalkboards are mostly light pastels, which tend to be pleasing to the eye and absolutely worthless as an instructional writing surface.

Faculty offices were placed along the outside wall, but solid concrete separates occupants from anything resembling natural light. The rationale behind this windowless concept was discussed in architect's preliminary design manual. The elimination of windows was a relatively common architectural practice in the 1960's, and the following quotes illuminate the designers' intent:

Elimination of windows and glass areas. This permits partition flexibility which terminates on exterior walls. [sic] To provide building with a climate control system which will help prevent a building from becoming obsolete. Having eliminated glass areas and installed controlled environment, we can achieve a minimum of distraction. Sound transmission as a distraction is greatly reduced by elimination of glass. Controlled illumination at given levels can be provided most satisfactorily when areas are provided with artificial illumination. Natural light produces shadows and glare, dependent upon exposure, which cannot be controlled. [Listed under construction economies] Glass elimination. Students and faculty exposed to a comfortable atmosphere by regulated temperatures as a result of air conditioning are less likely to become a discipline problem since discomfort is a contributing factor to a student's restlessness, disinterest in class, and eventually developing into a discipline problem for the sake of diversion. The respiratory system naturally functions best when cool filtered air is continuously supplied, thereby affecting the entire body which contributes to a higher rate of efficiency by students. An atmosphere of highly controlled room temperature eliminates stuffy rooms caused by stagnant air which is of course detrimental to a person's health and reduces efficiency. Air conditioning assists in keeping a student fit throughout the school year, and contributes to a lifetime of good health.Brelsford, Childress, Paulin, "Colorado State College Education Building: Objectives of Design." n.d., 2-3, 9- 10.

One begs for the example of an architect whose office does not have at least one window, let alone has spent two decades in an office without a window. The architectural firm for McKee Hall, which should wish to remain anonymous from pure shame, was Brelsford, Childress, Paulin of Denver.The McKee Hall (and Michener) faculty would probably find it difficult to comprehend that one of the biggest problems with the recent Kepner Hall renovation is that of closing the upper part of the enormous double-hung windows. The effects of the lack of natural light over a long period of time is a topic of much recent research. A comparison of turnover rates, illness, effectiveness and job satisfaction between those long-term faculty members with and without windows would be very interesting, since this data can easily be located and verified on campus.

Whatever faint hopes might have existed for the success of the complete climate control system in McKee Hall were extinguished by the Great Energy Crisis. Sheer economics made it impossible to provide air conditioning on a year- round basis, even though the building design depended on it to cool interior spaces. Modifications have been made, but the building will continue to be difficult to operate and maintain.

The lecture halls are also worthy of comment, being almost perfect examples of how not to design such spaces. Instructors have but two senses at ready command, sight and sound. The ventilation system in these large rooms generates enough background noise near the podium to render normal speech impossible, mandating the use of the provided electronic gadgetry, which is barely an improvement on those rare occasions when it works. The lighting consists of spotlights recessed in the ceiling that create pools of bright light that students huddle in to see their notes. This deficiency was known even before the building was occupied, but has remained uncorrected for the past two decades, although there is some indication that it may be corrected before another two decades have slipped by.Education-Classroom building construction conference notes, March 1, 1968.