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Geothermal wells to provide energy to new HSSC

The construction on Mac Field will culminate in the installing of geothermal wells, which will allow for eco-friendly heating of the new HSCC. Photo by Mayu Sakae.

Grinnell students returned from spring break to find the perimeter of Mac Field surrounded by a fence and covered in mechanical equipment. To many students, this new construction site was a surprise.

To compensate for the loss of Mac Field for intramural sports, such as Ultimate Frisbee, Facilities Management has been working with the Athletic Department to find a new place for teams to practice. The area they found is east of the softball fields, making it accessible for student use. Unfortunately, Mac Field will not be usable as an intramural field until the fall of 2018, due to the growing season of the grass.

Currently, Mac Field is under construction for a geothermal well field for the Humanities and Social Studies Complex (HSSC). The new HSSC will be heated by these geothermal wells, as will several other buildings on campus. Mac Field was selected, as this is the only area of land on campus that is large enough to install the necessary amount of geothermal wells in order to properly heat the HSSC.

“The whole idea is to make the HSSC as environmentally friendly as possible, so we’re using geothermal technology,” Rick Whitney, Vice President of Facilities Management, said.

Geothermal technology is incredibly environmentally friendly. It allows for heating and cooling to happen simultaneously, making the process extremely efficient. It uses around half the amount of energy as a traditional system.

The project is already underway, as several wells have currently been placed in Mac Field. There will be underground lines between the HSSC and the well field and this construction will begin towards the end of this April. There will also be an underground vault that will be finished during the later months of summer.

Soon after the construction finishes, the restoration of Mac Field will begin. In addition to the standard restoration process, a grade will also be established, making water drainage more efficient.

The idea to use geothermal technology is one example of the College enacting its commitment towards sustainability.

“[The idea to use geothermal technology started due to] the design of the building and our pursuit of being as ecologically friendly as we could with this large facility being almost 200,000 square feet,” Whitney said. “We wanted to be sure we were doing as little to the environment as we could.”

Facilities Management has also partnered with Alliant Energy. Alliant Energy calculated that the amount of geothermal energy would save the College at least $250,000 a year.

According to Whitney, a lot of input went into the creation of this project. A building committee that consisted of administrators, faculty and students worked with the architect to make sure that the plan lined up with the goals and mission of the College.

But while the project has generated a lot of buzz, geothermal technology is not new to Grinnell’s campus. The College’s natatorium also utilizes this technology, but for a different purpose. There, geothermal technology is employed to dehumidify the air, which takes a considerable amount of energy.

“This [geothermal technology] has been working really well and this is what gave us the confidence to take this bold step,” Whitney said.

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