Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A Major Step Forward And A Major Change In The Vandy Skyline


It's been a part of the Vanderbilt skyline and its operations about as long as Kirkland Hall. But now it's finally going away much to the cheers of environmentalists and sustainability experts.

It's the coal-burning smoke stack you can see on the right side of the photo above. I'm sure all of us remember the plant and the related large coal pile that used to be located near the smokestack, just behind Rand Hall back in our days on campus (now the Sarratt Student Center). It's all going away along with the three-story bag house (a coal filtering system), the coal hoppers and the coal silo.

According to a news release from the University, the Board of Trust has voted to replace its coal generation facility with a system that burns natural gas at a cost of $29 million.  One major reason for the change: natural gas prices are lower while electricity and maintenence costs are rising. Besides environmentalists say, the change will help improve air quality.

How big a change is this? Well, the university's release says Vanderbilt has been producing "steam and electricity for more than 100 years. The current plant and its hub of underground networks (the famous steam tunnels connecting the dorms and other buildings on campus) began in their current location in 1923." Over the next two years it will be replaced by "two natural gas-fired boilers  and one natural gas-combustion turbine, which will co-generate steam and electricity."

I guess this also means that the station manager of WRVU will lose one of his/her really neat perks (if this hasn't happened already). Back in the days before it went FM (which no longer exists) the station used to be on "carrier current," meaning it broadcast its signal down some lines strung though the steam tunnels to small transmitters in each dorm which radiated the signal throughout the campus (kind of, it didn't always work so well). Anyway each year the station manager got a set of keys to be able to access the steam tunnels I guess for maintenence purposes. I'm sure it led to some very interesting  late-night tours (the most likely times) of what remains Vanderbilt's underground catacomb system.

3 comments:

Unknown said...

Sorry to see that old coal pile go. Sophomore year a low level fire burned deep in the pile for months. The decision was made that it wasn't worth it to dig down into the pile, they just let it burn out.

As for those keys, Pat, I had 99 keys when I was station manager that actually worked. Those steam tunnels ran to every building on the campus, and some of them came up even into restricted areas of the Science Center and the Hospital! You ask how I know that?
I went down every single one of them along with Allen Muse and Barney Kantor trying to find all blasted WRVU transmitters in 1971 when we changed to 14.1 cosmic watts of power on December 3rd, 1971.

The Red Smurch that we set loose on Oxford House is related to the station's conversion of a coal furnace to our original transmitter room.

You'll never have stories like that with natural gas and sub carrier FM signals.

Steve Womack
Nessie Chapter of the Vanderbilt Alumni Relocation Program

Unknown said...

Sorry to see that old coal pile go. Sophomore year a low level fire burned deep in the pile for months. The decision was made that it wasn't worth it to dig down into the pile, they just let it burn out.

As for those keys, Pat, I had 99 keys when I was station manager that actually worked. Those steam tunnels ran to every building on the campus, and some of them came up even into restricted areas of the Science Center and the Hospital! You ask how I know that?
I went down every single one of them along with Allen Muse and Barney Kantor trying to find all blasted WRVU transmitters in 1971 when we changed to 14.1 cosmic watts of power on December 3rd, 1971.

The Red Smurch that we set loose on Oxford House is related to the station's conversion of a coal furnace to our original transmitter room.

You'll never have stories like that with natural gas and sub carrier FM signals.

Steve Womack
Nessie Chapter of the Vanderbilt Alumni Relocation Program

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