Steam tunnel construction near Peavy Construction
(photo: Erin Martin)

While Boston’s “Big Dig” project was a 25-year megaproject, OSU’s current “big dig,” a steam tunnel installation, will finish by the fall of 2018. The steam tunnel installation is a large-scale infrastructure project designed to improve the reliability and resiliency of heating and steam usage across the Corvallis campus.

All of the Corvallis campus’s steam and half of its electricity is produced by the Energy Center, a co-generation facility located on Southwest 35th St. and Southwest Jefferson Way. Steam is used across campus for heating buildings, but also for heating water, for sterilizing lab equipment, and even in restaurant steam tables used to keep food hot. When the Energy Center started operating at capacity in June of 2011, it was awarded LEED Platinum certification, which recognizes the Energy Center’s efficient use of energy resources.

The Energy Center currently feeds steam to campus by a single large steam pipe. In late 2016 and early 2017, the steam line began failing, which created an opportunity to improve the steam delivery system for OSU’s Corvallis campus. The new system features two steam feeder lines, in addition to the steam return line. When complete, in normal Oregon weather conditions, one steam line will deliver steam to campus. In the event of extreme cold, or a line failure, a simple valve can be turned and the other line will be put into operation immediately – resulting in no interruption of steam supply to campus. This redundancy will also help facilities services address maintenance during the university’s annual steam shutdown. 

“The benefit of the tunnel is that we can run steam, electricity, and even water to campus as a closed system,” explains Joseph Majeski, director of facilities services. “No catastrophes. If there is a problem we can reach it, assess the problem, and fix it. No digging required.”  

The steam tunnel project will cost approximately $10 million and will be paid from capital renewal funds. In fact, the steam tunnel project will allow other issues to be addressed, like road conditions on Jefferson Way, lighting, pedestrian and bike facility improvements.

With a campus as large as the Corvallis campus’s 570 acres, Majeski said facilities services staff try to create redundant systems as much as possible to allow for uninterrupted campus operations.

“Keeping classes going, laboratories functioning and campus running. That’s the goal,” says Majeski.

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