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Heating Plant I

Heating Plant I old.jpg

‚ÄčOpened: 1905
Closed: 1948

The first heating plant constructed on campus was built in 1905, when school officials authorized the construction a central heating plant located away from the other two main buildings and on the east end of campus, near the present-day location of Smith Hall. The plant was coal-fired, and Normal boys often helped unload coal from railcars and transport it across campus to the plant.

In 1932, the Gas Corporation of Michigan converted two of the 150-horsepower steam boilers to natural gas, and the same year an oil-burning boiler was installed. The improvements were part of a large-scale test of the viability of both gas and oil, but by November, officials were convinced natural gas would be the energy source for the school. By December 1932, four of the six boilers had been converted to gas and the other two remained dormant because of the increased efficiency. Workers also laid nearly a mile of pipe from Mission Avenue to the College and added new equipment to the existing gas lines running between the Vernon gas field and Mt. Pleasant. Following the severe winter weather of 1934-35, two oil burning units were installed to help boost the capacity of the heating plant.

The original heating plant supplied steam and heat to all of the buildings on campus through a system of underground tunnels built at the time of the original construction and continually expanded with the addition of new buildings. The tunnels were six feet wide and five feet high, lined with stone, and lighted to facilitate repairs and maintenance. Students "discovered" these pipes again and again over the course of the twentieth century, although exploration of these passageways was discouraged by the University because of safety concerns. Students also had an interesting relationship with the smokestack on the original plant. A heated rivalry developed between freshman and sophomore classes, who would climb the 69-foot stack and plant their initials at the highest point they could achieve, only to be bettered by a member of the competing class shortly afterward.

Improvements and renovations were made to the original heating plant throughout its existence. In 1939, for example, the original smokestack was rebuilt and repaired; the new paint covered the countless initials of the above-mentioned student rivalry. However, the building's age and the growing demands of the campus community limited the long-term usefulness of the facility. By the early 1940s, sections of the building's walls were sagging, leaving rotting timbers exposed. In 1941, with the opening of Sloan Hall, a new girls' dormitory, the needs of campus exceeded the capacity of the original heating plant. In 1941, a State inspector condemned the building, which was finally demolished in 1948 after the completion of a new heating plant on the opposite side of campus.