Full Steam Ahead!

The work never stops as Northeastern continues to upgrade and renovate its systems. The University’s steam distribution system isn’t something that one typically thinks about until the heat or hot water isn’t working, but it provides steam to 90% of the buildings on campus.

Northeastern primarily uses steam for heating and domestic hot water in student residence halls and HVACs to dehumidify air within buildings on campus. The system is about 40 years old, and Northeastern is racing against the clock to repair and upgrade the system before it causes any disturbances. The primary target of this project is the area around Robinson Hall that also includes Mugar Life Sciences, Curry Student Center, Snell Library.

Facilities Management Senior Project Manager Gerard Buggy is working with teams from the Northeastern Facilities Department steam shop and landscaping crews to ensure the project concludes successfully and within the assigned timeframe.

The project encompasses four buildings, replacing approximately 400 lineal feet of steam line, and maintaining critical steam line connections. It took eleven months to plan and prepare, and the project commenced on May 5th, 2021, and is expected to conclude by September 19th2021.  Most crews work two shifts, six days a week, to ensure that the project is completed on time. “A huge part of the work and coordination is ensuring everyone’s safety,” explained Gerard. “Steam is extremely dangerous and can lead to instant death. Every time a manhole is opened, it must be tested to check the oxygen level. People are putting their lives at risk when they go down there, so we put safety above everything.”

“We’re always communicating and trying to stay ahead of potential issues,” says Gerard. One of the biggest challenges that Design & Construction is currently facing is the material and supply chain issues. A decision was made early on to purchase all of the necessary materials ahead of time to avoid any delays.  

Talking about potential issues, there was an emergency leak at Cabot Hall. The steam line condensate returner cracked, and scalding hot water was continuously pouring out of the pipe, causing damage to the nearby steam line while also damaging surrounding plants. Nonetheless, no one was injured besides some plants due to the exceptional planning and thorough safety protocols. As a result of the implemented safety protocols, this project has a 100% safety record.

Gerard emphasized that “all the parties were helpful and instrumental in allowing Northeastern crews to complete their work and that the work would have been much more challenging without their cooperation.”


Written by Alex Gritsinin – September 3rd, 2021
Photo by Russell Zingler 

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