Utility plant overhaul gets committee approval
The Campus Facility Planning Committee unanimously approved $48 million in campus renovation projects at its meeting Friday.
The projects are an approximate $3 million expansion and renovation of the Jack J. Valenti School of Communication building and a $45 million expansion of the Central Utility Plant.
The committee will present the projects to the UH System Board of Regents for final approval in August.
The Valenti School of Communication expansion will add 5,000 sq. ft. to the building and the renovation of 6,500 sq. ft.
Some faculty and staff offices will be renovated as well as parts of the production facilities and two classrooms, Valenti School of Communication Dean Beth Olson said.
Committee Chairman and Associate Vice President of Plant Operations David Irvin said the communication program is one of the better programs on campus, and the renovations will give it the visibility it doesn’t have.
He said the project will give the school the space it needs for its 1,500 undergraduate and 100 graduate students, and these numbers growing.
‘The department has grown by leaps and bounds. This is not a matter of ‘if you build it, they will come’,’ Irvin said. ‘They are here. It is a matter of if we build it, they will definitely fill it.’
If the board approves the project after the committee’s August presentation, construction will begin in January 2010 has a projected completion date of August of the same year.
Most of the construction will take place during the summer, so it won’t disturb classes, Irvin said.
The $3 million needed for the project is coming from gifts and donations.
The second project approved by the committee is that of the expansion of the Central Utility Plant.
This project will replace equipment built in the 1960s and 1970s with new equipment projected to reduce UH’s nitrogen oxide (NOx) emission by 70 percent.
The project calls for the expansion of the plant that provides power and air to most buildings on campus with the exception of College of Optometry, the Campus Recreational and Wellness Center and housing on south Wheeler Avenue.
‘This project is one that does a whole lot for us,’ Irvin said. ‘It increases the capacity of our plant so we can serve all projects that will be coming up.
‘Right now the equipment in the plants is several years old, it’s tremendously energy inefficient, and because it is old equipment and its built in the ’60s and ’70s, it doesn’t meet any of the current state requirements.’
Campus buildings powered by the plant use about 700 tons of chilling. One ton of chilling removes the amount of heat necessary to melt one ton of ice in a 24-hour period.
With the construction of additional buildings on campus, the plant’s workload will increase to 2,400 tons of chilling, which would exceed the plant’s output capacity.
‘This project will raise the (available chilling) tons to 18,000 tons. It replaces three chillers, all five cooling towers and two of the large boilers,’ Irvin said. ‘This means that we will have savings of about 3 to 4 percent.
‘In terms of our NOx emission, our current cap is of 8.5 tons, and we are at 7 without all the projects coming on board. This puts us in the position of trying to buy credit. What this project will do is decrease the emission and put us in a position to sell credit rather than buy.’
If approved by the board the project is scheduled to be completed by 2012.
The committee expects the $45 million needed for the project to come from the state stimulus package the University expects to receive later this year.
If the University does not receive the anticipated amount from the stimulus package, the project’s funds would come from money available for deferred maintenance Irvin said.
The committee would use between $7 million and $8 million from deferred maintenance each year to pay for the project. In doing so they would run the risk of having insufficient funds to do many classroom renovations, Irvin said.
Whatever the case, Irvin said the projects would not affect students’ wallets.
During the meeting the committee also discussed the potential purchase of the University Business Park, located on the 5000 block of the Gulf Freeway.
The property consists of about 14 buildings occupied by UH and other companies, which would remain as tenants after the University bought the property.
The University has been in negotiations for the past seven months to buy the property for an estimated $27 million.
UH officials expect the University to acquire the property as soon as May.
If UH buys the property, the University will most likely be used for research labs, office spaces and additional parking, said John Walsh, director of Real Estate and Campus Planning.
‘This is the biggest expansion decade by the University,’ Irvin said.