On a typical late summer day in Athens, temperatures can easily reach more than 90 degrees.
This was the case the Friday before Labor Day 2021 when the Facilities Management Division’s HVAC team responded to an urgent situation on campus.
Near the end of the workday, an electrical surge disabled a district energy plant (DEP) responsible for cooling some of the University of Georgia’s largest residence and classroom buildings. The HVAC team worked quickly to find, diagnose and fix the problem before temperatures in the buildings rose to an uncomfortable level in the several million square feet of campus that DEP #1 serves.
The team’s only option was to perform the delicate startup procedure by taking manual control of the system and operating in that manner for the next seven hours. Meanwhile, the replacement parts were installed on the damaged equipment. No one in the buildings ever noticed a change, thanks to the FMD team.
Since then, that plant, as well as other central DEPs, are being reviewed as part of a multi-year optimization program.
“This investment should not only provide better energy efficiency to campus, but will also give the FMD team better visibility of our plants for remote operations and proactive troubleshooting,” said Jason Lambert, senior director of facilities operations and infrastructure.
While FMD has always played a key role in protecting the health and well-being of UGA’s campus community by maintaining vital pieces of equipment, keeping building systems functioning and responding to emergencies, that role has expanded during the past two years.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, FMD staff have placed a particular focus on improving ventilation and indoor air quality in buildings and facilities across campus, something that requires an intricate choreography of setpoints, controls, properly maintained equipment and timely response when conditions fail to meet specifications.
“These daily efforts complement the significant investment into improving campus HVAC systems being led by FMD over the past two years,” Lambert said. “In fact, we are pleased to report that we now are protecting more than 1.3 million square feet of space with UV-C disinfection arrays and have completed about two-thirds of the system replacement, building automation controls and commissioning projects funded since the COVID pandemic began.”
An interactive website shows the location of buildings with completed, in-progress or in-design HVAC air quality improvement projects. In this academic year alone, more than $7 million in targeted projects to improve HVAC systems across campus is underway, with 16 of 18 HVAC replacement projects already complete.
“Even in normal, pre-pandemic conditions, the upkeep and maintenance of the broad and complex variety of HVAC systems in our campus facilities is a pretty daunting challenge,” said Ryan Nesbit, vice president for finance and administration. “So, I’ve been extremely impressed with how our facilities teams have responded to the pandemic and the steps they continue to take to improve ventilation and indoor air quality across the campus.”
UV total disinfection arrays were installed over the fall semester in the Miller Learning Center, Caldwell Hall, Tate Student Center, Park Hall, Joe Frank Harris Commons, Bolton Dining Commons and the Main Library. Additionally, the planned UV disinfection arrays have just been completed at Aderhold Hall, Sanford Hall and Boyd Research and Education Center. All the work is in accordance with CDC, DPH and HVAC industry standards.
In addition to HVAC improvements, FMD will continue to follow the special cleaning and disinfection protocols that have served the campus community effectively over the past two years. Personnel will continue to restock and supply the existing hand sanitizing stations and wipes for individual use in offices, breakrooms and classrooms. Information on cleaning frequency and protocol, sanitizing stations or wipes, or how to request additional cleaning service can be found here.
For more information about UGA’s HVAC initiatives, visit fmd.uga.edu/buildinghvac.