Keeping the Lights On

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Thomas Waltz

Over the next two years, there will be power outages on campus as the University replaces and upgrades its electrical infrastructure. Thomas Waltz, Jr., assistant vice president for facilities, says the communication is critical to ensure the entire campus community is aware of pending outages.

“There will be inconveniences,” said Waltz, “but our goal is to mitigate impacts to students, faculty, staff and visitors as much as possible. Everyone expects the electrical infrastructure to work when needed.  You flip a light switch and the room is illuminated. There is a lot of infrastructure underground and in the building walls to make this happen.  Just like any equipment, with time the infrastructure deteriorates for a number of factors (environmental elements, wear and tear, etc.).  The life expectancy of our underground electrical conductors (wires) is 30-40 years.  We are on the cusp of this timeline.”

Also, the codes and laws have changed over time requiring more stringent, safer installation methods.  This project will bring the existing infrastructure up to current standards.  The entire project will cost approximately $15 million and is being managed by the facilities department.

When the project is completed, each major University building will have its own utility meter.  Currently the University receives a lump-sum bill from our electrical provider.  Once buildings are individually monitored, the University will have the capability to assess loads and develop energy saving initiatives resulting in reduced electrical costs.  Each building will also have the capability to be individually isolated, whereas today we would have to secure power to several buildings to work on the one building.

Waltz says the campus community needs to anticipate a lot of outages.  The various athletic, conference, academic and event schedules are being incorporated in the contract documents to minimize impact during large events—but there will be impacts.  Facilities will communicate the outages as best as possible; however, if one phase takes longer than anticipated, it will impact the sequence.

“We will not be able to avoid impacts,” said Waltz. “When power is secured, buildings will not have lights, HVAC, convenient outlets, etc.  The critical life safety (fire alarm systems, emergency lights, etc.) will be supplied via the emergency generators.  We will also be making alternate plans if classes need to be rescheduled or relocated.”

 

  1. Andrew Stalgaitis says:

    How long will these outages be? Are we talking about shutting off the power to buildings like Gordinier, the SMC, the residence halls, etc. for extended periods of time, or just short durations of time like the outage on the evening of 6/16/2013? Students, staff, and faculty deserve to know when their daily routines will be impacted, as well as for how long.

    • Thomas Waltz says:

      Duration: The majority of outages will be approximately 6 hours. Some outages will be shorter. Others will be longer. We are anticipating that there will be a minimal number of campus-wide outages to make some critical connections at the main switch gear building.
      Buildings: All campus buildings will experience an outage as some point. Although the houses will not be affected by the outages, they may lose IT connectivity as they are serviced by a building undergoing a power outage.
      Communication: Communication will be essential during this project. Since inception, we have reached out to various committees. We are incorporating major event into the schedule to minimize and/or avoid impact during major events.

  2. Rebekah Raffensperger says:

    How much notice will students and staff be given? It is really important for students and staff to be able to schedule in advance, especially if the students are relying on a time to write papers, study, utilize the computer lab or library. At least a week’s notice would be preferable. Student’s and staff’s lives are far too busy to be given a day’s notice.

  3. Thomas Waltz says:

    We are working on the contract specifications which will dictate the campus notice protocol. We have also engaged several committees in communicating the sequence of the outages. I specifically say “sequence” not “schedule”. There are numerous factors that could impact a “scheduled outage” but the sequence should remain relatively unchanged. I agree a day’s notice is not acceptable. We are targeting a week’s notice for all outages; however, we must also remain flexible in case situations are encountered outside of our control.

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