The Miami Report

News and Public Information Office
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Miami University
Oxford, Ohio 45056
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Heating a 24-hour job for Miami utility systems team

While most of us were gathered around the table for a Thanksgiving meal, they were working. When our children run downstairs to see what Santa left under the tree, they’ll be working. And the countdown to midnight on Dec. 31 will be just another day on the job for them.

"Somebody’s always here, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year," said Cody Powell, utility systems manager at Miami’s steam plant.

Somebody has to be there: it’s state law. The only time the plant shuts down is for a week of scheduled maintenance in May.

Tucked behind Peabody Hall, the steam plant goes unnoticed by most people on campus. But the plant and its workers have a big task: maintaining optimum heating for a community that’s bigger than a lot of towns, with approximately 16,000 students, 3,500 faculty/staff and more than 100 buildings.

Eight operators in two-person teams rotate on three shifts to keep everything running smoothly: midnight-8 a.m., 8 a.m.-4 p.m. and 4 p.m.-midnight. Four employees work on maintenance; Powell and assistant utility systems manager Gene Rader round out the staff. Many staffers have worked at the plant for 20 years or more.

The control room is the heart of the plant, and the operators, called stationary engineers, must be licensed by the State of Ohio. Operators monitor all systems in the control room and periodically walk around the plant to check for potential problems. They’re very good at what they do: the plant has operated for more than 975 days without a lost-time accident.

The plant contains four boilers, capable of burning three types of fuel, to produce the steam. Three of the four boilers are capable of generating 80,000 pounds of steam per hour; the fourth can produce 100,000 pounds of steam per hour. Natural gas is the fuel of choice and quantities are purchased in advance based on figures from past usage. Fuel oil and coal can also be burned. All systems are strictly maintained to meet standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency .

The boilers are controlled based on the campus steam pressure. As each individual building calls for heat, the system pressure drops. The boiler then produces more steam to maintain system pressure at 110 pounds per square inch. A higher steam load is required in winter, lower in summer.

Powell and Rader keep in constant contact with the office through pagers. "We’re close to achieving remote monitoring capabilities of control room systems via laptop and home computer," said Powell.

Powell anticipates no Y2K problems. The plant has backup generators. "We believe it will be just another day at work."

Date Published: 12/09/1999
Volume: 19   Number: 19


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