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Central Energy Facility

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Opened: 1961
Cost: $900,000

Following a period of incredible growth in terms of both students and campus buildings in the 1950s, school officials placed the construction of a new power house as the top priority for campus expansion plans. The new power house would replace the heating plant located west of Wightman Hall, which had been constructed in the early 1940s and was itself a replacement for the first heating plant on the main campus.

The $900,000 project was designed by architect Roger Allen and Company of Grand Rapids. The general contractor for the project was Engelhardt Construction of Bay City, while mechanical work was done by Maintenance Engineers Incorporated of Flint and the electrical work was completed by Electrical Service Company of Ann Arbor. The building, which was located on what was then the southeastern corner of campus (its current location), featured two 32-ton boilers capable of producing 150,000 pounds of steam an hour. The building's location also necessitated the construction of a 4,400-foot heating tunnel to connect it with the existing system. In December 1961 the plant ignited its boilers and began heating all of the buildings on campus.

The new powerhouse saw several significant renovations and improvements over the next few decades. In 1978, a Centralized Monitor and Control System was installed to reduce energy expenditures by allowing adjustment in campus heating, ventilation, lighting, and air conditioning, all of which were controlled by a centralized microprocessing unit. The project cost $1.2 million and took three years to fully implement, but saved the University in operating costs. The project paid for itself in four and a half years.

In December 1982, the Board of Trustees heard a presentation on a proposed wood-burning power plant that would supplement or even replace the natural gas fired plant in operation at the time. After consideration, the Board approved $3.5 million for the project, which was projected to save the University $20 million over the following decade. Funding for the project came from federal grant and loan funds, as well as from University deficit spending. Similar wood-burning power plants were growing in popularity at this time. Dow Corning Corporation had recently completed construction on a similar, albeit much larger, facility in Midland in 1982.

Groundbreaking on CMU's new wood-burning plant took place in the spring of 1984. The wood handling and storage facilities were built by Radar Companies Incorporated of Portland, Oregon, and the construction of the wood boiler was completed by General Riggers and Erectors of Detroit. The wood-burning plant was built adjacent to the existing power house on East Campus Drive. Expected to burn 43,700 tons of woodchips annually, CMU signed a contract with Morbark Industries, Incorporated of Winn to supply the woodchips, which would come from a 50-mile radius around the University and would be stored in two large silos next to the facility. The wood-fired boiler fired for the first time in February 1985, a ribbon cutting ceremony was held in June, and it was fully operational by mid-summer. The wood-burning plant was named the Outstanding Engineering Achievement in the Education Division for 1985 by the Michigan Society of Professional Engineers.

Although the wood-burning plant was initially successful and well received by the campus and local community, the energy crisis that spurred its construction eased by the late 1980s and alternative fuel sources once again became more economically feasible. CMU began to rely more and more heavily on natural gas once again, and by 1988, it had made plans to remove a large boiler from the powerhouse because it was no longer needed for campus use due to the increased efficiency of using natural gas rather than wood chips. The boiler was shipped by rail to AC Spark Plugs in Flint in exchange for robotic equipment no longer needed by the corporation but which would be used in the new Industrial Education and Technology Building on Central's campus.

In 1990, the University announced a $13.7 million expansion to the power house, now known as the Central Energy Facility. E & V Incorporated of Holland was the construction management firm, and work on the project began in the fall of 1990. The project included conversion of the wood-fired boilers to gas-fired boilers, which would be the primary source of heat for campus. Crews installed four large chiller units, which were tied into the expanded air conditioning network that cooled buildings across campus. A fourth boiler was also added that included a cogeneration turbine capable of producing electricity. When the project was completed, the University would be capable of generating up to 60% of its own electricity. The expanded Central Energy Facility remained the primary source of heat, air conditioning, and domestically-produced electricity until the completion of the Satellite Energy Facility in 2006-07.