Electrical Upgrade to Impact Most of Campus
Northern’s underground medium-voltage electrical cabling system will be upgraded this summer. The age of the existing cables, combined with a few electrical failures in recent years, prompted engineering and planning staff to put the $1 million project on the summer priority list.
They hope to avoid a major failure that could shut down campus during the academic year. Michigan Tech experienced such a predicament in November when there was a problem with direct-buried underground cables. MTU will undertake a similar project this summer that will replace all of the underground cables and some of the switchgear.
“The majority of the cables here at Northern are almost 40 years old,” said Kathy Richards (Engineering and Planning). “They need to be replaced because they are past their useful life and we want to prevent any failures. We replaced the cables between the University Center and Cohodas last summer because a fault occurred. We are trying to prevent those types of occurrences from happening, so we will upgrade the remaining cables this summer. The new system will be much more reliable.”
Construction is scheduled from May to August. The project will cause intermittent power outages in all buildings that feed off the university heating plant. Those that operate on a separate system – the campus apartments, Superior Dome, PEIF and Berry Events Center – will not be impacted.
“The contractor will be pulling in new cable and we’ll have to swap over the building connections,” Richards said. “We will be doing a building at a time and scheduling outages so not all buildings will be affected at once. As we make the swap from the old to the new, there might be up to a six-hour outage for that building.”
Some buildings will require more extensive work. They include Gries, Spooner, the Services Building, Jacobetti, West Hall and possibly the LRC. Outages might last longer in those cases, but Richards said the contractor is required to provide an emergency generator in buildings where the power will be out for more than six hours.
The outside contractor, VanErt Electric of Kingsford, will handle the majority of the work. NMU trades personnel will also be involved in the project. Richards said electricians will assist with the switchovers, plumbers might be on site to shut down the steam so buildings don’t overheat when the electricity to the chillers is shut off, and energy management personnel will make sure the air handling units function properly once power is restored. Building attendants will help when a shutdown impacts specialty labs, coolers and computer systems.
“The greatest challenge during the construction will be coordinating outages with occupants and user groups,” Richards said. “Brandon Sager (Engineering and Planning), project coordinator, has been working out a detailed schedule with the contractor, which should be completed by the end of March. We have received feedback from faculty and staff with critical events or systems and we are trying to accommodate everyone’s needs. When we schedule a specific building for an outage, we will double-check with the occupants and make necessary accommodations.”
Any comments or concerns about the electrical loop upgrade project should be referred to Sager at firstname.lastname@example.org.