MCCC renovations scheduled

The Heating and Cooling geothermal renovation will take an estimated 18 months for construction to complete.

Work will be primarily done in each of the original buildings, leaving the Health Education and La-Z-Boy buildings with minor installations in comparison. Those two buildings will continue to run on their current systems until they eventually need to be retired, then switching to the geothermal system.

It all started with the chiller dying. Evaluating the rest of the heating systems initiated conversation on what should be done.

“We kind of doubled the life span on some of them… things only last so long. So we really got our money’s worth out of them. It was time for us to replace them,” Burns said. “Everything fell into place and it just made sense to do it this way.”

This is the first time that the college has borrowed money for a project. For about $12.1 million the college could have replaced the current standard system, which would cost less energy to operate, but for a $4 million more than the geothermal was seen as the wiser choice with a lifespan double the standard system’s.

“We could have gone traditional, but we wouldn’t see the energy savings like are with the geothermal,” Burns said.

With new traditional system equipment the college would be saving $160-170,000 a year, but Ameresco, the contractor the school is working with, has a guaranteed savings commitment that promised the school at least $200,000 in savings a year through a geothermal system. If the savings fall short of that, the contractor will make up the difference. Burns believes the savings will exceed this amount.

“It was a little bit of an investment—with a big return. We’re very excited about that,” Burns said.

The geothermal equipment will be connected to energy meters different than the rest of the campus for a cheaper rate that’s granted for using this technology. DTE allowed the geothermal system running the Career Technology Center to also be added on this separate meter so the cheaper rate will apply for that building as well.

The geothermal system is expected to last for the next 50 years, with the savings eventually paying for the majority of the project.

The system will require more energy than what’s available, so three new electric transformers will also be installed to satisfy the energy need. The standard system would use less energy to operate, but the savings that will be returned in the long run will well make up for that.

The campus will go from a primarily natural gas based heating and cooling system to a primarily electrical based system. The gas consumption will decline but the electrical consumption will greatly increase. However this additional draw will bump our energy contract into the next tier, which is a cheaper rate, along with the energy savings from using the technology altogether.

The state of Michigan’s government recently changed the financing on geothermal projects, so MCCC is amongst the first to take advantage of this, which enabled the switch from a 10-12 year financing plan to the 20 year plan that helped get the project going. This was proposed to help K-12 institutions, which MCCC is economically comparable to.

“Our public school system is kind of suffering from lack of funding, especially when it comes to building maintenance,” Burns said.

This fall semester the culinary corridor (between Cuisine 1300 and the kitchens) in the Administration building will be under work but still open to traffic. The teams will be pulling ceilings, adding new duct work, then placing new ceilings and lighting up. In the north hall (where the president’s office is located) will be closed completely for 5-8 weeks while duct work is completed.

Staff based in this wing will be relocated to yet undetermined temporary offices, perhaps using available space in the La-Z-Boy center or the 170 rooms in the south wing of the administration building.

During the winter semester the north corridor of the Life Sciences building some work will be done, possibly closing sections of that area down as well, which would for example temporarily displace math courses.

The Campbell building’s basement will also see some renovation during the winter semester.

Shortly before the Spring semester begins, the East and West Technology buildings will be closed down, with an estimated 8 weeks of work, the most work being done amongst the buildings, were hallways and corridors will be under extensive retrofitting. All courses will be relocated to yet undetermined rooms elsewhere on campus.

Since work will be done on ceilings the light fixtures in those locations will be replaced with LED bulbs, which are forthcoming to the entire campus.

“Most people won’t notice, but those with trained eyes will be able to tell that they’re not fluorescent,” Burns said.

What will be noticed by MCCC once all exterior and interior lights on campus make the switch to LED are energy savings that will come later down the road when other the phases of the sustainability initiative begin—but first, it’s the HVAC renovations.

Outlined future plans include the lighting overhaul and replacing current doors and windows with new ones that hold a better seal, so heated and cooled air will be better contained indoors while keeping outside temperatures at bay. Then less energy is required for reheating and cooling of controlled air. This is all part of creating additional savings through smarter campus infrastructure.

Any time during semester breaks and holidays weekends will be used to take buildings offline completely so that final connections can be made to the rest of the system. So when classes resume the buildings will be up and running so that regular access will be available for staff and students.

Burns noted that the efficiency of the work is paramount, with students and staff’s needs as the foundation on which all construction and renovation planning has been built upon. The goal is to be the least obstructive to students possible.

“It’s going to be 18 months of pure headache for us, but in the end it’ll be a really great thing,” Burns said.

During these times work will be going on in the mechanical spaces which will be largely unnoticeable to most, and in fact much of the work will be going on behind the scenes. Even the outdoor pipe laying will be done in such a way that no parking lots or ground will be torn up.

The mechanical rooms will simply have their old air handling units with new ones. The three boiler houses will become chiller houses, exactly like what’s running the CTC building, opening lots of new room which will be used to store the geothermal equipment.

Reducing the campus footprint was easy for this project, seeing the better use of space and available resources, such as the field behind the solar field that will be used to drill the 270, 4 foot deep wells necessary for the water based system. The water is used in a closed-loop system, so it is never “used up” and will be recycled through without drawing more water from the ground. These wells are buried under the field, which was never suitable to construct buildings upon, so it would be possible to still use the grounds for a parking lot or athletics.

The new systems will be internet connected, so when something needs adjusted, operators will use tablets to make changes from anywhere on campus. Although this may seem trivial to some, it’s analogous to what updating from old technology does for MCCC—when the bar is set for greater effect it speaks about what the college is after.

“That’s the difference between the technology we had in 1968 when the campus was built and the technology in 2015,” Burns said.

And in the shoulder months of the year when weather is inconsistent and the humidity alters air conditioning needs, the buildings will be capable of sharing their controlled air as needed. So if one building is warmer than it needs to be and another is colder that it should, they can feed each other through this looped system. 

“It’s incredibly cool technology,” Burns said. “I can’t wait to show everybody just how amazing it is.”

Burns won the confidence and votes he needed, taking MCCC’s initiate to be a leader in the community and solidifying this into something immediately clear and measurable. In face of the failed millage, it appears MCCC has not stepped back from achieving its mission as a leader in Monroe County.