CSU Archives and Special Collections

CSU Buildings and Grounds History

A history of CSU's building and grounds from 1870 to the present.

District Heating and Cooling Utility Plants/Central Heating Plant, 1915-

A tall, narrow smokestack stands in front of a single-storied white brick building with four arched windows. A curved paved street with a parked car is in the foreground and trees frame the upper edges of the photograph.

Heating Plant and smokestack, 1928

From CSU's Sense of Place:  A Campus History of Colorado's Land-Grant University, by James E. Hansen, Gordon A. Hazard, and Linda M. Meyer.  Fort Collins, CO:  Colorado State University, 2018.

Architects – James W. Lawrence, Babcock & Wilcox of Charlotte, North Carolina, William C. Muchow & Associates, Inc. of Denver, Cator, Ruma & Associates of Lakewood, Colorado, Michael L. Aller, David Lingle and Bradley Massey

Builder – Chicago Cement Construction Company built the smokestack

880 Oval Drive, 951 South Mason Street and 204 West Lake Street

Construction began in early October 1915 on the building and its landmark 185-foot-tall smokestack.  The smokestack rose an additional 7.5 feet each day as it was built by the Chicago Cement Construction Company.  In early December 1915, the construction of the towering smokestack was completed as the most visible part of the coal-burning Central Heating Plant.

Professor James W. Lawrence worked with architects Babcock & Wilcox of Charlotte, North Carolina to design the building and its smokestack.  Professor Lawrence discovered that 12 feet below the ground surface was more than 12 feet of solid sandstone.  This natural foundation is credited for the smokestack not moving at all during the floods of 1938 and 1951.  Fifty feet higher than the campus flagpole by Spruce Hall, the towering smokestack purposely lacked a ladder to prevent students from climbing the structure.  The original idea of painting green and gold bands at the top was also nixed by the administration.

The smokestack immediately became a landmark and icon of the campus.  It stood for the next 74 years until October 1989 when it was torn down rather than spending money to keep it maintained.  The first aerial photographs of the campus were taken from the top of the smokestack just as it was being completed and there was still access to the top of the structure in December 1915.  The Central Heating Plant was located on the lowest part of the campus because steam rises, and the returning water runs downhill.  This eliminated the need for pumps to move the returning water to be reheated.

Brought on-line for the fall of 1916, the new Central Heating Plant was described in the catalog as being constructed of concrete, brick, and steel and was considered to be practically fireproof since no wood was used except for the window and door frames.  The ground floor contained the boilers and coal bunkers.  The boilers were the very latest design of Sterling Water Tube boilers. Each was rated at 234 horsepower and equipped with an automatic coal stoker.   Located in the basement were the receivers and their pumps which took the water returned from the buildings and injected it back into the boilers.  From the basement were two tunnels leading off to all of the buildings on the campus.  The boilers, coal handling machinery, pumps and other equipment were designed so that tests of each part could easily be made by the students in mechanical and electrical engineering.

The years went by, and the campus grew.  Completed in 1955 was the installation of a new $125,000 boiler that provided two-thirds more steam than the two original 1915 vintage boilers it replaced.  This boiler worked with whole lump coal rather than the more expensive pulverized coal required by the old boilers.  It took a full year to construct and install the new boiler that was needed as the campus was expanding westward with many new buildings being constructed.

In the fall of 1959, the process to convert the fuel from coal to natural gas with oil back-up started with the installation of five 12,000-gallon oil storage tanks by the railroad tracks and north of Johnson Hall.  The conversion was completed in early 1961.  Natural gas was the preferred fuel with oil only being used as an emergency back-up fuel.  In the summer of 1984, a new addition was constructed around a massive new boiler that replaced two older boilers.  William C. Muchow & Associates, Inc. of Denver designed this addition to the Heating Plant Building.

In the fall of 1997, the “District Cooling Utility Plant No. 1” was built near the south end of the Central Heating Plant, now referred to as the “District Heating Steam Plant”.   Located at 951 South Mason Street, “DC Plant No. 1” provided chilled water to allow air-conditioned buildings on the Main Campus. This utility was started in the fiscal year 1998 with 1,500 tons of cooling capacity to serve seven buildings. By fiscal year 2006, this utility expanded to 5,165 tons of cooling capacity serving 31 buildings.  Campus growth was anticipated to continue with projected loads of 7,500 tons of cooling power serving over 50 buildings.

In December 1997, work began on the old 1955 vintage electrical substation on Pitkin Street.  It was replaced with new equipment to handle the increased electrical demands of a growing campus.  Design of the project was by Cator, Ruma & Associates of Lakewood, Colorado.  This electric substation is now situated between the Botany and Chemistry Research Buildings.

Located at 204 West Lake Street, “District Cooling Utility Plant No. 2” was placed into service in 2008. This addition to the campus HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) system was built to keep the temperature in the growing number of university buildings comfortable.  “District Cooling Utility Plant No. 2” and its support building are in the southwest corner of the Transportation Services vehicle parking area.  It has a 2,000-ton chiller designed to meet future load growth and capacity requirements. The location of the “District Cooling Utility Plant No. 2” is directly south of the “District Cooling Utility Plant No. 1” on the east side of the Oval. This location is considered ideal because it increases system reliability and redundancy in case of localized power failures, pipe ruptures, flooding, or other catastrophes around DC Plant No.1.  The architectural firm of Michael L. Aller, David Lingle and Bradley Massey designed this project. 

The District Cooling utility concept provides substantial capital and operating cost savings to CSU.   The capital cost to build the utility is at least 30% less than installing chillers in each building, primarily because of the load diversity. Since not all of the building cooling loads peak at the same hour of the day, the total chiller capacity of the District Cooling utility is approximately 70% of what the total firm capacity would be with chillers installed in each building. This diversity ratio has been measured. In addition, fewer large chillers cost less than many small chillers. This strategy also eliminates the noise, space, and associated cost for locating chillers, towers, pumps, and power in new buildings. Operational savings occur through reduced maintenance staff and lower utility bills because of a more efficient system with variable flow pumping capabilities.

Before “District Cooling Utility Plant No. 2” was placed into service, the District Cooling utility capacity barely met peak loads during summer. There were no backup chillers to provide firm capacity. Firm capacity, by definition, provides peak cooling with the loss of the largest chiller within the system. The largest chiller was 2,000 tons. The District Cooling utility now has been expanded to provide more capacity for new buildings already funded and under design, as well as to accommodate the 20% of existing buildings that lack cooling thus impacting their use.

In June 2007, the Board of Governors approved spending $700,000 to install a biomass boiler fueled by wood chips at the District Heating Plant at the Foothills Campus.  The Biomass District Energy facility located at 3135 Rampart Road became operational in the fall of 2009 and was designed to heat the Animal Reproduction and Biotechnology Lab and the Judson M. Harper Research Complex.  It was paired with the new Solar Power Plant that was dedicated in January 2010.  A composting plant is also part of this operation to handle food waste, animal manure and other compostable materials coming from the campus.  In early 2017, an expanded composting operation using the Windrow method began, increasing the amount and types of materials that can be composted at the Foothills Campus site.

The South Campus is served by the “MCS Chilling Plant”.  This utility is located just north of the hay storage sheds at the Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital complex.  This is “Building N” of the buildings at 300 West Drake Road.

Sources by Gordon A. Hazard

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Rocky Mountain Collegian, September 16, 1915, pages 1 and 5, vol. XXV, number 2.

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Sources by Gordon A. Hazard

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