U not likely to get funds to fix power

By Lana Groves, Asst. News Editor

Power outages, such as the one that shut down classes in multiple buildings Nov. 6, are increasing every year and the U is unlikely to secure state funds to fix the problem.

The power failures are part of a larger electrical wiring problem that is getting worse every year. In 2007, the U was without power for more than 300 hours, said Cory Higgins, director of plant operations.

And the campus can expect more problems in the future.

The U’s electrical distribution system was set up nearly 50 years ago but was meant to last only 30 years. Higgins said the high voltage distribution, which transfers power to different sections and buildings across campus, is repeatedly failing.

During the summer Mike Perez, associate vice president for facilities management, presented an analysis of the electrical and high temperature water problems on campus and how much they would cost to fix.

The project, estimated to cost $112 million, would take at least five years to complete, Higgins said.

“We have so much equipment that relies upon electrical activity, more so for research buildings,” Higgins said. “We’ve gotten to the point that our back-up feeders can’t handle anything more, so when we have power outages, they can be quite lengthy.”

Yet with the economic downfall and recent state legislative budget cuts, requesting funding for electrical problems would be very difficult.

“I think this will be a really tough year for us (to secure funding),” said Kim Wirthlin, vice president for government relations.

In the 2009 legislative session, the U will request $28.5 million for the David Eccles School of Business construction project that will be used to build two new buildings to replace those that were built in the 1960s, Wirthlin said.

The business school raised $79 million for the $107.5 million project to revamp the school and requested funding in the 2008 legislative session, but was denied in favor of the Utah Museum of Natural History.

Wirthlin said that through this project, the U would be able to set up better electrical systems for buildings that are part of the business school.

Early in Fall Semester, the U discussed the growing electrical problems with state legislators and members of the Utah Division of Facilities Construction and Management to show where the U needs the most help.

Wirthlin said the U has no set date to request funding for electrical needs,

but by presenting the key issues to legislators the U can make them aware of the issue while looking for alternate ways to lessen the problem.

One way could be setting up meter readers for older buildings across campus so maintenance workers can identify a problem in the electrical wiring within minutes, Higgins said.

“At the last break, we knew which feeder line was (causing) problems because people started calling to say they were out of power,” Higgins said. “After that, we had to almost physically walk the system to find where the fault occurred.”

A modern system could fix those problems and identify faulty wires before a power outage occurs.

Even with an updated reading system to find outages, the U still needs the new system. Higgins said the funding could be interspersed throughout five years or more because it would take that long to update all of lower and upper campus without interfering with students’ education.

To fix the entire problem, Higgins said workers would have to update the voltage distribution and replace most of the old wire and equipment, which connects to every building on campus.

The U receives about $1.5 million in funds every year from the Utah State Legislature to fix certain maintenance problems, and administrators requested additional funding last year for various projects. However, Wirthlin said legislators are unlikely to increase those funds because of the economy.

Wirthlin said the U will instead try to fix some of the immediate problems through other projects.

“It’s not too sexy to go to the Legislature to request funding for a chiller plant,” Wirthlin said. “I can get a lot of support for the School of Nursing (however), and add in the chiller plant with it.”

As with the School of Business, Wirthlin said if the construction project were approved, it would fix electrical problems in that part of campus while giving business students a better learning environment.

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