Skip navigation links

Feb. 1, 2019

Critical employees answer the call during winter weather

Extreme winter weather during the week of Jan. 27 brought historically cold temperatures to East Lansing, forcing MSU to modify operations and placing a strain on utilities statewide.

Coupled with a Jan. 30 explosion at a Consumers Energy natural gas facility — MSU’s provider of the vital resource used to heat campus —critical employees found themselves facing a daunting task: Reduce energy usage as much as possible during one of the coldest periods in state history, all while keeping students and employees safe and research efforts unhindered.

Working nonstop for two days, MSU heeded the call from Consumers Energy and state leaders and reduced its natural gas usage by a staggering 16 percent. Combined with efforts from both large businesses and residential customers statewide, Consumers Energy was able to prevent natural gas outages.

When Consumers called MSU on Wednesday afternoon asking for support, key university personnel immediately began reviewing energy usage, looking for areas where it could be reduced, said Dan Bollman, vice president for Strategic Infrastructure Planning and Facilities.

“We have an expansive energy system on campus, so we knew there were areas we could reduce,” Bollman said. “But we needed to be strategic; we couldn’t risk the safety of our students and employees nor potentially damage the university’s research efforts.”

A broad team from IPF and across campus met throughout the day Wednesday and overnight into Thursday morning; steps taken included:

• Thermostats were set to 65 degrees across campus, per the request from Consumers Energy and the governor’s office;
• Hot water was turned off to many buildings across campus;
• Ventilation, such as bathroom exhaust fans, was shut off for most residence halls;
• Fan systems with humidification were turned off, not including research or animal spaces;
• Many classroom fans were turned off (though some had to be left on to maintain appropriate pressure);
• The snow melt system was turned off;
• Operations were shut down at Linen Services;
• There were changes made to dining services, namely breakfast operations;
• Fume hoods were closed in Chemistry, Bio-Chemistry, Bio Engineering and Food science
• Incinerator operations were shut down;

By the end of the day Thursday, Consumers Energy customers were able to start returning to normal operations. Bollman said the efforts of everyone involved at MSU cannot be understated.

“When faced with a significant challenge, particularly while the university already was in modified operations, critical employees stepped up and got the job done,” he said.

Employees elsewhere across campus also pitched in to keep campus operations running smoothly. Even during modified operations, students need to be housed and fed, the power plant needs to run and police need to patrol campus, among other things.

Elsewhere in IPF, employees focused on clearing the 83 miles of roadway, 124 miles of sidewalk, 3 miles of bike paths, 7 parking ramps and 318 acres of parking lots across campus. Workers used 21 pickups, 14 loaders, 12 tractors, 11 tool cats and four salt/brine trucks to clear the snow and dump about 750 tons of salt and 2,000 gallons of brine, which MSU makes on its own and can be used in colder temperatures than traditional rock salt.

In all, nearly all of IPF's 688 full-time employees pitched in during the week as critical employees.

For Residential and Hospitality Services, which includes housing and dining, modified operations meant figuring out how to feed more than 16,000 students with reduced staff. RHS set up an emergency operations center at 1855 Place, said Kat Cooper, chief communications officer for the division.

“We asked anyone who could make it to campus to please do so,” she said. “Then we assigned and shuffled employees to the different dining halls based on need to make sure meals were being served.”

At the Kellogg Center Hotel, even though traditional dining service wasn’t being served, a buffet was set up in the State Room for guests.

“Even in wintry weather, everyone needs to eat,” Cooper said.

By: Jason Cody