By Katy Ricchiuto
It’s an enormous undertaking that has completely closed off one of Ohio State’s most-used pedestrian routes from the south residence halls to other parts of campus.
One might almost expect another Ohio Union to suddenly rise into the skyline.
“I’m sure the first thing that goes through someone’s mind is ‘Oh no, more construction,” said Dorothy Leachman, associate director at the Office of Student Life. The reality is that the South Oval construction is one part of Ohio State’s geothermal well project, continuing the university’s dedication to sustainability practices.
All the heavy machinery is there as part of an effort to drill water wells — 458 of them — down to a depth of 550 feet, to supply a constant temperature for heating and cooling the South High Rises, the residential complex on 11th Avenue, also under construction.
Once finished, the renovated undergraduate student residences will have heating and cooling systems driven by the geothermal energy from the wells. “The initiatives are excellent that we’ve done over the years,” said Leachman. “The library, RPAC, the stadium and the Union are great, but now we’re refocusing on how we house our student residents.”
Another 50 geothermal wells will be in use in the new William H. Hall Complex II, which will be located on 10th Avenue behind the 11th Avenue garage. South campus residences Patterson, Bradley, Mack and Canfield halls will eventually be on the geothermal energy loop as well.
This new sustainability project grew out of pressure to air condition the South High Rises. University leaders weighed possible options to make the most cost-effective and environmentally conscious decision.
“If you build something new, you’re already adding carbon and wattage, so how do you add that most efficiently? We studied it for six to eight months, and geothermal came out to be the most efficient way and best way to meet our initiative,” said Leachman.
The project-in-progress was fueled by Ohio House Bill 251, which urged Ohio State to reduce energy costs on all new building projects. “So I think the two things married,” said Leachman. “If we hadn’t had the House Bill to substantiate our initial costs, we may have been told to dial back.”
That’s because geothermal energy has a higher initial cost than any other type of heating and cooling system. But the extra green goes a long way in promoting more, well, green. For one, the geothermal wells powering the south campus residences could potentially reduce the south quadrant’s energy costs by as much as 31 percent.
What’s more, the well fields themselves can never be built on. “So the South Oval was a perfect site. It will preserve the green space forever so that nobody can build a building on it,” explained Leachman. And once the construction is finished, there will be little to no evidence this bit of construction ever happened. The construction area will remain closed through September 2012, though a pair of sidewalks that crisscross the space are due to open this coming November.
The university is focused on the economic impact of the project as well. “At the peak of construction on the project there will be approximately 500 construction positions. There could be as many as 750 construction jobs created by the project over the various contracts and time,” said Leachman.
To top it all off, the South High Rises and the Hall Complex II are both aiming for silver LEED certifications. This certification, combined with the overall benefits of the geothermal well systems, is a testament to Ohio State’s continuing efforts to promote sustainability around campus, and in the state of Ohio as well, Leachman said.
“We’re definitely up in the top tier of universities that are doing this type of construction,” she said. “I think we’re performing a good service to the university.”
For more info…
To read more about the geothermal wells, as well as other sustainability efforts at Ohio State, visit sustainability.osu.edu.