$7.72 million electrical system upgrade planned for 18 campus buildings upon approval

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Electricians work on restoring power to Kedzie Hall on Sept. 27, 2016. The power was disrupted on Sept. 24, 2016, after an underground cable was broken, possibly in relation to a lightning strike. (George Walker | The Collegian)

Birgit Wassmuth, department head of journalism and mass communications, described the power outage in Kedzie Hall last week as a sobering experience, a little eerie and a little “Twilight Zoney.”

Wassmuth got a call from the police on Sept. 25, informing her that the power in Kedzie Hall had gone out during the storm the previous day. From there, the next morning was spent moving classes out of Kedzie Hall. She said the people in the dean’s office, especially Karen Solt, administrative officer in the College of Arts and Sciences dean’s office, deserve kudos for relocating people on such short notice.

Thompson Hall and All Faiths Chapel were affected as well, yet were brought back to life on Monday afternoon.

Wassmuth said a team of four K-State electricians started working on Kedzie, one of the oldest buildings on campus.

“The first day when we talked, they were frustrated because they hadn’t found the place where things broke yet,” Wassmuth said.

On Monday afternoon, the electricians located where the cables blew, which are 80-plus years old, according to Ed Heptig, director of facilities maintenance.

Heptig said even though they found the problem on Monday, it took them until Wednesday to fix it because they had to remove part of a wall to get back to the cables, along with cutting and replacing wires.

“Once they found it, I could see a more relaxed smile on their faces,” Wassmuth said. “From there, it was just a matter of fixing it.”

Casey Lauer, assistant vice president of engineering, utilities and maintenance, said the cost of materials and labor to restore power to Kedzie, Thompson and All Faiths Chapel was approximately $8,000.

Wassmuth got the all-clear on Wednesday evening and on Thursday, Kedzie was allowed to go full speed again. She said all the computers were pulled out of the electrical outlets before any lights could be turned back on.

“Some areas in Kedzie have had problems with moisture coming in and when you bring electric wiring together, that creates concerns,” Cindy Bontrager, vice president of administration and finance, said. “That’s why we have a budget for things like this, so certain things can be strategically upgraded one by one.”

To fix problems like these, K-State has created an electrical system upgrade plan that will reach 18 buildings on campus.

Back in 2007, the 4.16-kilovolt electrical system failure rate had become intolerable and needed to be upgraded to a new, 12.5-kilovolt medium voltage electrical distribution system for reliability and safety considerations, according to the electrical system upgrade plan provided by Bontrager.

The Kansas Legislature passed a bill in 2007 that created the Deferred Maintained Program to provide K-State with $46 million over five years from state and interest funds.

In 2008, they began the program, with the top priority being to replace the 41.6-kilovolt electrical system. The modern 12.5-kilovolt electrical loop was designed to increase power and allow switching of buildings in case one of the two sub-stations were to fail, according to the upgrade plan.

However, the program was canceled about halfway through the five-year plan due to a decline in the state economy. The 12.5-kilovolt loop was constructed to some, but not all of the buildings.

K-State has created a new plan to convert the old power system, which will cost $7.72 million and may be funded through short-term financing. The plan must first be approved by the Legislature and the Board of Regents.

The project scope will address 18 buildings on campus currently supplied by the old power system and will install and connect a new 12.5-kilovolt electrical system. Additionally, each building will undergo a service upgrade to include replacement of transformers, low-voltage service into the building and replacement of building switchgear.

The reasonable construction time frame spans two consecutive fiscal years. The first phase will upgrade 10 buildings, totaling $4.35 million, while the second phase will upgrade the remaining eight buildings, totaling $3.37 million.

Kedzie will be included in the switchover to the new, 12.5-kilovolt electrical system. Lauer said the plan should be approved in the next month and will begin in the spring.

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Hi there! My name is Julia and I'm a senior in journalism and digital media with a public relations emphasis. I am copy chief for the Collegian and also edit for the Manhappenin' magazine. My dream is to live in the mountains someday while working for a marketing or publishing company.