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Seeing steam float around campus is far from a revelation for many students and staff in recent years. One building that’s famous for its steam is the Media Arts Center, which currently flaunts orange barricades to protect students from the open manhole. Not to mention the Zorn Dining Commons dish machine, which depends on steam, was unable to function on Friday, Nov. 30. It was another steamy issue, but this one wasn’t foreseen.
The two incidents are unrelated, Bill Rymes, the supervisor of plumbing and heating plant operations on campus, said. He said the reason the manhole is open is because there is an abandoned pipe that runs into that manhole and water is coming out of it, filling the manhole. “So we set a pump up in there to prevent the water from coming up and hitting the steam line because if it hits the steam line then it boils and creates a bunch of steam,” Rymes said. Rymes explained he is not sure yet what the cause of the water is but now that the semester is ending, they will have more time to investigate, since the pump has been taking care of the water thus far. First he said he wants to find out where the water is coming from before they go and cover the pipe.
The situation that caused the dining commons to stop washing dishes temporarily is a completely different issue, Rymes said.
On Nov. 30, Rymes said a leak sprung from one of the three boilers in the power plant, so they shut down that boiler to try and repair it, and in trying to get the pressure off of the systems they had shut down one of the other boilers. “The steam pressure was really high when we left it and the boiler wouldn’t fire up, but it would come on when we were done,” Rymes said. “I came in the next morning and someone found a problem with our high pressure boiler that had been running and we had to shut it down so we could fix that problem, and the steam pressure dropped and dropped until the lower pressure boiler came on, and when it came on it was so cold that it couldn’t keep up.”While the power plant staff was making repairs, Rymes said the school was running on just the summer boiler which is enough to heat the buildings on campus but not enough to support the dish machine.
According to the General Manager of the dining commons, Josef Quirinale, when the steam decreases and the temperature of the water goes below 180 degrees, dining commons staff have to stop washing dishes because any temperature below that does not sanitize the dishes. “We really have no choice but to serve on paper,” Quirinale said. “We also have to adjust the menu because there are many things that are prepared on the steam kettles that we can’t prepare. Of course we can’t wash pots and pans so we have to be really careful.”
The dining commons staff monitor a temperature gage throughout the day, Quirinale said, and when they noticed the temperature dropping they called it into the power plant. Quirinale said the power plant staff said it would be a couple hours until they could wash dishes, and by dinner time the dining commons had its dish machine back.
Like the unexpected leak on the boiler, Quirinale said he expects things like this to happen even with the dish machine, which also malfunctions on occasion.
What happened that day at the power plant Rymes described as just a freak thing. “This wasn’t something we could have foreseen,” Rymes said. “We do preventative maintenance in the plant daily to prevent steam outages, but [the leak] is not a preventative thing because you wouldn’t regularly go in and change those gaskets.”
Although Keene State College uses steam to transfer heat throughout the campus, Associate Professor of Technology, Design and Safety Peter Temple said that using steam was helpful before electricity became popular. “Steam was a great technology in the late 1800s because people didn’t even have electricity, or electricity was pretty primitive and not really reliable,” Temple said. “After World War II people stopped using steam because it was much more efficient to transfer heat with hot water.”
Temple said the reason most places haven’t already converted is because they already have a large, complex infrastructure in place built up for steam and it would be expensive too change. This is the big reason Rymes said when asked why the campus doesn’t use hot water.
“We have a million dollars invested in a steam infrastructure already,” Rymes said. “If you were to go to hot water, the pipe diameters have to be considerably larger than steam pipes.”
Lindsey Arceci can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org