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Bond Would Fund Critical Infrastructure
 

October 11, 2002 --

This is the fourth in a series.

Meadow Creek
This drawing shows how Meadow Creek may look in Nameless Field, adjacent to the U.Va. Bookstore and parking garage (background). Returning the creek to ground level is part of the storm-water management plan.

By Dan Heuchert

The U.Va. infrastructure projects included in November’s statewide higher education bond referendum aren’t sexy: chiller plants, electrical substations, storm-water management.

But ask Cheryl Gomez, director of utilities at Facilities Management, what happens if the referendum fails, and her reply gets your attention pretty quickly.

In the near term, power outages and air-conditioning failures could become more common. In the long term, schools could see surcharges on new construction to support infrastructure capacity, which could affect the size, timing and eventual use of new buildings.

To understand the importance of the infrastructure items on the ballots, it helps to understand U.Va.’s utility systems.

“Chiller units” cool most of the University. The cold water they produce circulates through nearby buildings via one of seven regional loops, a system that Vice President of Management and Budget Colette Sheehy touts as being more efficient than maintaining separate chillers for each building. Having multiple chillers on each loop provides backup should one chiller plant fail, she said.

It’s a clever system, but one that is being strained by the University’s growth.

For instance, the bond package includes $1.6 million to replace the chiller at Campbell Hall, currently the only one serving the Carr’s Hill loop. That unit has actually been out of service for much of the summer, Gomez said, despite some $50,000 spent to repair multiple problems. A portable unit is working in its place, but its noise has caused neighbors to complain.

Citizens will vote on whether to provide $846 million in bonds for educational facilities. That total includes $68.3 million toward the following facilities and improvements at U.Va. (the balance will be funded by private gifts or through other sources):

MR-6 (Medical Research Building), a new structure for advances in immunology, infectious diseases and cancer research: $24.2 million (total cost: $50 million)

$14.3 million for a new Arts & Sciences building. Part of the $125 million South Lawn Project, the building will house 13 of the College’s 26 departments and will contain digitally equipped classrooms serving the entire University.

A new nanotechnology and materials science and engineering building to foster technological innovations: $7 million (total cost: $34 million)

Renovation of teaching laboratories in Gilmer Hall to support instruction in biology and psychology: $5.7 million

Renovation of Fayerweather Hall, a 19th-century gymnasium now housing the McIntire Department of Art: $4.6 million

A new engineering/science chiller plant to provide cooling for new construction and replace outdated CFC-based technology: $4.8 million

Replacing the Campbell Hall chiller to increase capacity for new construction and replace chronically malfunctioning equipment: $1.6 million

Upgrading the Cavalier substation to increase the University’s electrical capacity: $4.7 million

Constructing a regional storm-water management system for McCormick and North Grounds, including restoring Meadow Creek and constructing a pond: $1.4 million.

The replacement would have 50 percent greater capacity, in order to serve the planned studio arts building. Additional chillers will eventually be needed to cool the expanding Arts Precinct, Gomez said.

The bond package also includes a new $4.8 million chiller plant under the forthcoming Aquatics and Fitness Center addition, to help accommodate anticipated new loads in that area, including the Materials Science Engineering and Nanotechnology Building and a dining hall.

“This is a real critical loop, because it is where all the science research occurs,” Gomez said.
She hopes the new plant — the third on the McCormick chiller loop — will allow the University to phase out an aging chiller in Olsson Hall. The Campbell Hall unit and the Olsson chiller use chlorofluorocarbon-based refrigerants, or CFCs, implicated in ozone depletion and global warming.

Like the chiller loop system, the University’s electricity is funneled through five regional substations, each of which powers several nearby buildings.

The bond package includes $4.7 million to double the capacity of the heavily burdened Cavalier substation, located near the Medical Center, in order to serve new buildings and allow the eventual phaseout of the current East End substation, Gomez said.

The East End station, serving the Health System and portions of Central Grounds, provides lower voltage than modern facilities. New parts are no longer being manufactured for it, so replacements must usually be purchased secondhand, Gomez said.

The final infrastructure element in the bond package is the University’s first-ever regional storm-water management plan.

Generally, such plans have been done piecemeal as new buildings are constructed, Gomez said. By law, measures must be taken to mitigate the effects of water running off of impermeable surfaces like roofs and parking lots, limiting erosion and the spread of pollutants, she explained.

The regional plan would serve the Meadow Creek watershed. The creek now disappears into pipes underneath the Dell area near Ruffner Hall, then flows under Emmet Street, behind the parking garage, Memorial Gym and Nameless Field, under University Avenue and Carr’s Hill field before resurfacing near the Lambeth Field apartments.

The $1.4 million storm-water management plan calls for bringing Meadow Creek back to the surface through much of that path, then feeding it into a small pond between the proposed new basketball arena and Emmet Street, Gomez said.

Explaining the philosophy behind the plan, Gomez said storm water “is not something we want to get into a pipe and get out of here as soon as we can, but something to celebrate and enjoy.”

In all, the infrastructure projects add up to about $12.5 million of the University’s $68.3 million portion of the higher education bond referendum — a number that got some faculty members’ attention, Sheehy said.

“To be honest with you, the provost got a little grief from some of the faculty, who look at the list of the projects that were approved and see $12 million for infrastructure and say, ‘Wow! You know, we could have another building for that,’” she said. “But they have to have those projects … because without them, the buildings that are being built would not operate.”

   
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