Kansas University's steam tunnels have been around almost as long as KU itself.
Below the streets and sidewalks of Mount Oread are about 5 miles of tunnels built for access to the pipes that carry steam to heat the buildings. The steam tunnels also are used to route electrical, gas and other utility pipes and cables around campus.
University officials are asking the state for $8.8 million to improve and maintain the steam tunnels on the main campus. The tunnels are the university's No. 1 priority on its 2007 fiscal year capital improvements list.
"We've been asking for it for a number of years," said Warren Corman, university architect. "We've spent over a couple of million already on tunnels."
The money would fund repairs, maintenance and new tunnel construction. Corman estimates about 15 percent of the campus tunnels need rehabilitation.
Cindy Strecker, energy manager of facilities operations, said it's important to maintain tunnels for optimal energy savings and also to keep the system environmentally friendly.
"If you don't keep the pipes insulated then your costs could go, potentially, through the roof," Strecker said. "If your overall system efficiency is greater, you're going to use less natural gas and you'll have less emissions."
A steam tunnel segment that ran below 14th Street was just rebuilt in the spring. Vernon Haid, physical plant supervisor, said the $900,000 project was one of the few tunnel segments that was dangerous to work in.
"That was one we had to replace everything in. It was a corrugated tunnel," Haid said. "It could collapse and do all kinds of crazy stuff."
At a central heating plant on the main campus, boilers generate steam for about 58 buildings year-round. The steam is delivered through a piping system that runs through the tunnels.
"We try to keep the pipes insulated so you don't get burnt," Haid said.
The university is planning for a tunnel system on west campus, the cost of which is not included in the capital improvements request. Corman said west campus would be much more developed in 20 years, with as much as 700,000 square feet of new buildings. With that kind of space, Corman said, a centralized system is the only way to go.
"There are no other options. You could use electric heat, but electric heat costs a lot more per kilowatt to heat with," Corman said.
The new Multidisciplinary Research Building will be the heart of the new west campus tunnel system. The center will house laboratories for natural science students. It is the first structure of many that will be built on the south part of west campus.
Instead of installing boilers in each building, Corman said the university will purchase two boilers for this section of west campus.
"We're designing a central plant for cooling and heating with a complete back-up in case something goes down because there's going to be research in there," Corman said. "It's big enough to handle that space and to handle a whole lot of other buildings."