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Updating the University of Georgia’s North Campus

Updating the University of Georgia’s North Campus

By Luke Carothers

The University of Georgia has a long and rich educational history.  Becoming the first state-chartered university in 1795, the university’s campus boasts a special beauty rooted in its historically significant buildings.  Despite the beauty these buildings bring to the campus, they also come with the associated cost of aging systems and infrastructure.  These older campus buildings are currently heated by a low-pressure steam system with failing pipes.  In an effort to modernize their North Campus, the University of Georgia is working with RMF Engineering to design a more efficient low temperature heating water distribution system to heat buildings.  This conversion to heating water will ultimately allow the university to not only modernize these buildings, but it also sets the stage for the use of lower carbon heating sources on the oldest part of campus.

RMF Engineering is a full-service engineering firm headquartered in Baltimore with offices in eleven states, including an Atlanta, Georgia office.  According to Vance Nall, Division Manager of RMF’s Atlanta office, the relationship between the firm and the University of Georgia dates back to 2005 when they helped the university develop a steam system master plan.  A tenet of the developed plan is the replacement of low pressure systems on the periphery of campus with regional heating water systems. The University began to focus efforts on developing the North Campus heating water loop in 2010. Nall and his team designed a system in which a regional steam-to-hot water plant would distribute water to six of the oldest buildings on campus.

The anticipated impact of the project made it difficult to fit into the construction schedule. However, the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020 provided a good opportunity to complete the project during reduced student load.  Once the project started moving forward, Nall says the decision was made to split the project into multiple phases to further reduce the impact.     

The project’s first phase was constructed in 2021 and involved a heating water distribution extension and routed the underground utilities between Candler Hall, Meigs Hall, Moore Hall, and up to the west side of Herty Drive.  Another aspect of this first phase was connecting Meigs and Moore Halls to the North Campus chilled water system, which allowed for the removal of the loud air-cooled chiller serving these two buildings.  This first phase also included the the installation of domestic water and medium voltage electrical infrastructure for future use.  The second phase was completed in the summer of 2022 and extended the heating water, chilled water, and domestic water further north. This expansion enabled the renovation of the Hunter-Holmes Academic Building (planned to begin in 2023), and connected UGA Chapel and New College Building to the new and expanded infrastructure systems. The project’s final phase will be the development of the heating water regional plant in Candler Hall which will provide heating water to all connected buildings and will be sized for future expansion.  

The majority of the buildings affected by this project were constructed in the early 1800s.  Many of these buildings have small mechanical rooms that are no more than crawl spaces that have been excavated and expanded, and have been filled almost to their extent by new equipment during various modernization efforts.  The project concept allows for the removal of steam-to-hot water heat exchangers, allowing some floor space to be recovered, but requires additional wall space for pipe entry.  Nall notes that allocating mechanical room space and properly locating the systems was one of the earliest and most consistent challenges throughout the project.

RMF’s work on the historic campus involved navigating treasured cultural elements of the school’s identity.   Part of the project involved installing piping across the north end of Herty Field, which has a special place in the university’s lore as it was the site of the first football game on campus.  Nall refers to this as “hallowed ground” for the campus community, and says that special attention had to be paid to work in this area.  

In upgrading the water heating system on UGA’s culturally-rich North Campus, RMF will bring the school into a more efficient and sustainable future, while respecting its past. The upgraded systems will create a robust infrastructure for the future of this historic part of campus, providing redundancy and reliability, while enabling a transition to lower carbon energy sources in the future.

Luke Carothers is the Editor for Civil + Structural Engineer Media. If you want us to cover your project or want to feature your own article, he can be reached at lcarothers@zweiggroup.com.