Underground Utilities Part of Tier One Transformation Plan

By Daniel Perez

UTEP News Service

If people dug deep enough, they would realize that there is more to UTEP’s Campus Transformation plans than a beautification project. In fact, they would find new utility lines that campus officials believe will help The University of Texas at El Paso achieve Tier One status.

Contractors have started to scrape out the necessary trenches around the Centennial Plaza work site in the campus core that will house pipes and conduit to transport power and other necessary services around campus for generations to come.Upgrading underground utility lines to increase their capacity and make them more efficient is a major part of the Centennial Plaza transformation. Photo by J.R. Hernandez / UTEP News ServiceUpgrading underground utility lines to increase their capacity and make them more efficient is a major part of the Centennial Plaza transformation. Photo by J.R. Hernandez / UTEP News Service

These new lines that incorporate recycled materials and the latest, most sophisticated technologies, will replace counterparts that have been in use for more than 90 years in some cases. They will be able to adapt and expand along with the University, planners said.

“The point of this is that transformation is not just superficial on top, but there’s a huge transformation going on underground that people don’t see, but it affects every single person on campus,” said Jorge Villalobos, Ph.D., director of Facilities Services.

Villalobos, Greg McNicol, associate vice president for business affairs – facilities management, and Nestor Infanzon, director of planning and construction, sat down recently to discuss that alternative storyline that in many ways is as important as the effort to make the campus grounds more attractive and pedestrian friendly. 

Campus Transformation planners realized that this was the perfect opportunity to upgrade the utility lines that would serve the University for the foreseeable future.

“To not do it would be irresponsible,” said McNicol, who added that the new lines will enhance the reliability of utilities, especially the power sources needed for 21st century education. “It goes toward our goal of becoming (a recognized national research institution). Giving that researcher the reliability in the utility systems is important, otherwise it could disrupt their scientific work.”

The University redesigned the layout into an easily accessible corridor that runs around the perimeter of the 11-acre Centennial Plaza. The installation involves digging a deep trench and layering the utility lines, starting with the sanitary sewer lines at the deepest point followed by the natural gas, hydronics (chilled and hot water), and potable water lines, and lastly the electrical conduit.

As each layer is completed, the systems will be switched over to the new lines in a way that minimizes the impact on the University’s students, staff and faculty. The contractor currently is digging the trenches for the gas, water and wastewater lines around Old Main and Quinn Hall and in front of the Administration and Liberal Arts buildings. That project should be completed in early September. Every utility will be switched before the end of 2013, Infanzon said.

The last transfer of power will be the electrical system, which will force a campuswide power outage Dec. 21-23 to hook up and test the energy feed, including the automatic transfer switches. The University will get a third line to improve redundancy, add capacity, provide room to grow and guard against any blackouts during heavy energy use in the summer.

“This is being done to make sure the infrastructure reliability is increased, and to make sure research and education is not interrupted because of power,” Villalobos said.

The University has worked diligently to follow the Sustainable Sites Initiative, national guidelines for site development that reduce the environmental impact of landscapes. They include site design, implementation, and maintenance such as the pesticides and herbicides that will be used. It even takes lawnmower emissions into account. As a result, McNicol, Infanzon and Villalobos have spent a lot of time selecting the type of sturdy steel pipe or whatever the best products were on the market that can withstand corrosion based on whether it was recycled, where it was milled, and the level of insulation.