Tunnel Project Begins March 10

Renee Ballenger

An extensive, multi-phased, and highly-visible, construction effort to develop a centralized heating and water distribution system for the expanding UNK campus will begin in March.

The Central Utilities Plant Tunnel Project will prepare the underground distribution system for a more efficient supply of heat and chilled water through an extensive system of tunnel improvement and new construction.

The “Tunnel Project”–part of the development of the University’s new Central Utility Plant infrastructure–will be served from the combined boiler and chiller facility on the site of the recently-razed old powerhouse.

Three sections of the tunnel project will begin March 10: the first, between Calvin T. Ryan Library and Copeland Hall; the second, between Otto Olsen and the Fine Arts Building; and the third, along the west side of Cushing Coliseum and the Health and Sports Center, from the Central Utilities Plant site down to Highway 30. Some of the existing steam lines date back to the 1930s, which means that much of the system has to be rebuilt to meet both modern safety and efficiency standards.

In the section between the library and Copeland Hall, a new steam tunnel will be built parallel to the existing tunnel, which runs from the library to the southeast corner of Copeland Hall. There will be fencing around this and other work areas. Direct-buried piping will be laid next to the existing tunnel to accommodate the chilled water system. After the new tunnel is complete, the old tunnel will be torn out and filled in. The estimated completion date for this leg of the project is May 23, after which the same process will occur along the east side of Copeland up to the corner of Antelope Hall. Fencing will go up along the sidewalk between Founders Hall and the new residence hall construction to the north; the sidewalk from Ninth Avenue past Copeland will remain. The sidewalk/equipment access path is indicated on the map by a pattern of circles.

The second section, also beginning March 10, includes the area between the Otto Olsen and Fine Arts Buildings. Here, only direct-buried piping will be needed. The piping pieces, incidentally, are 8 feet wide by 8 feet deep and are pre-insulated for heat energy conservation. At this site, double fencing will be in place on all sides adjacent to the campus day-care playground, providing additional protection for the children on the playground. According to Facilities Management, this section of the project is expected to be completed by April 11. Until that time, pedestrians will access the east side of the campus from Lot 10 through Otto Olsen or the Fine Arts Buildings.

For the heating and cooling side of the Central Utility Plant to work correctly, it will be necessary to build a sanitary sewer line along the west side of Cushing Coliseum and the Health and Sports Center, from the site of the boiler and chiller plant down to Highway 30. For a week, access to Fifteenth Avenue from Highway 30 will not be available for driving or parking. During this time, traffic from Highway 30 will use University Drive to access the campus from the west.

The NCAA Women’s Elite Eight will take place in the Health and Sports Center March 26-29. The Main Street walkway will be open throughout this event. Lee McQueen, director of Facilities Management and Planning, noted the comprehensive experience the two contractors are bringing to the project and to support his staff. The Leo A. Daly design firm of Omaha and J.E. Dunn Construction firm from Kansas City both have national university campus experience.

“They are especially sensitive to covering all the nuances of a project of this magnitude,” McQueen said. “For instance, the double fencing to protect the children on the Otto Olsen playground.”

Also, McQueen explains, the contractors and UNK staff have been very conscientious about preserving as many trees as possible. In fact, he said, several versions of the plan have been scrapped, because of negative impact they would have had on the campus landscape.

“As the numerous segments of the Tunnel Project progress, many trees will be relocated, and some will be lost,” he said, noting that decisions were made based on the availability of the correct and necessary equipment to excavate foliage, the costs involved and the survivability rate, even with the use of correct equipment.

“We have been vigilant in making sure we come up with an optimal plan that removes as few trees as possible,” he said.

Construction on the Tunnel Project will continue on campus through the end of July. There will be further stories in “The Columns” that will outline dates and details of the rest of the project. Expected start dates for other sections of the project are indicated on the map.

Perhaps the most critical set of dates connected to the project is May 10-12, when the campus will shutdown for a power outage. Beginning in February, NPPD construction crews will start site preparation and construction of a new, higher-capacity power substation next to the Spillway that will, when completed, replace the existing, dated substation. The outage will be necessary to transfer power from the old NPPD substation to the new substation. Official communications regarding appropriate work arrangements for UNK faculty and staff during these three days will be forthcoming.

The campus and the general public can keep up-to-date on the progress of the Central Utilities Plant Tunnel Project by clicking on the rotating photo titled “On The Move” in the upper left area of the UNK homepage. Then choose the Planning, Space Management & Construction link in the left-hand column, and go to the “Central Utilities Plant” link under the heading of Current Construction Projects and Webcams.

There is an opportunity for visitors to the Web site to provide feedback for each Facilities Management project currently underway. Also, those with questions or concerns about the Tunnel Project can call x1700 for more information or to voice any concerns.