By Lori Wysong
Many Washington College students woke up last week to ice cold showers. The campus steam boiler plant system was down for much of last Tuesday and Wednesday due to issues with the condensate and deaerator tanks. These tanks are responsible for returning steam to the boiler plant and for keeping the pipes free of corrosion, according to Director of the Physical Plant Valerie RiChard.
Safety considerations determined what happened next.
RiChard said, “We had a problem with the level control on the deaerator tank, so the tank was overflowing, and at that point we had to shut the plant down because we needed to understand what the conditions were.”
She said that contractors were quickly brought in to analyze the situation, and in the meantime, as much was done to restore various parts of the plant as possible. Inspections were made, and many parts for the boilers were replaced.
“Anytime we have a system down we try to make other repairs that we normally wouldn’t be able to make,” RiChard said.
Sarah Feyerherm, vice president of Student Affairs and dean of students, relayed updates to the WC community via email while the boiler outage was occurring.
“My biggest concern was that a lot of those halls are first year residence halls, and the last thing we wanted was brand new students who are already transitioning to have yet another disruption,” Dr. Feyerherm said.
Minta Martin, Reid, Queen Anne’s, Caroline, Kent, Cullen, and the Hill dorms were impacted by the situation. Because of the action from The Office of Buildings and Grounds, most of these dorms were not disrupted for long, RiChard said. Many of them are equipped with either oil or electric backup systems, which enabled hot water to become available again as soon as possible.
“I give Buildings and Grounds so much credit. They did so much to essentially make some tweaks that would maintain hot water that left us with the Hill dorms as the only ones affected,” Dr. Feyerherm said.
Other alternatives were available to those still affected by the boiler outage.
“There were two locker rooms in Cain that were set aside that had hot water, and the locker rooms in the Johnson Fitness Center were also available until 10 p.m. both nights,” Dr. Feyerherm said.
Whether due to the hard work of the Building and Grounds staff or the resilience of WC first year students, Dr. Feyerherm said she did not receive nearly as many student complaints as anticipated.
“We really appreciate their patience with it; they were wonderful,” she said.
As to whether a similar incident could happen again in the future, RiChard said that it has been “permanently remedied.”
“Not only that, but I’m doing even more, I’m looking at the redundancies of the plant, I’m looking at the operation of the plant, I’m looking at training, although we do have certified first-rate boiler operators on hand,” she said.
Now that the boilers have been repaired, she hopes WC students can return to life as normal.