Whitman Renovates Hall of Science to Comply with Standards

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Photo by Tanner Bowersox

The Hall of Science and Memorial Hall’s heating and cooling system, as well as Whitman’s irrigation infrastructure, are undergoing renovations this semester in order to comply with national environmental standards.

The system received an environmental award when it was originally built, and it was considered innovative for its time. But the system, which was installed in the 1960s, discharges excess water into College Creek. Because the temperature of the discharged water is slightly higher than the temperature of the creek, this system has been out of compliance with the Clean Water Act since it was passed in 1972.

“Of course, we didn’t know that,” said Director of the Physical Plant Dan Park, referring to the time when it was initially installed and since.

Whitman was informed last spring by the Washington State Department of Ecology that the systems needed renovation in order to meet environmental standards. Whitman ceased dumping water into College Creek as soon as it was informed of the issue, but renovations to upgrade the heating, cooling and irrigation systems did not begin until this semester.

Construction began on Feb. 24, but most of the renovations will be completed over the summer.

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Photo by Tanner Bowersox

“We have to get the irrigation done first, because we have to run a pipe from the science building to Boyer Avenue, so we want that done and healed up for commencement,” said Project Manager Jeff Donahue.

The new irrigation system is expected to be finished by April, while construction on the science building will not be over until June. The renovations for Memorial are expected to be complete in time for the beginning of school next fall.

The irrigation system will no longer discharge excess water into College Creek, and evaporative towers are being built in order to renovate the heating and cooling system for Memorial and the science building.

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Photo by Tanner Bowersox

Grace Farnsworth Phillips Professor of Geology and Environmental Studies Bob Carson explained the original system and its possible environmental repercussions in more detail. The water currently used for the heating and cooling system and for Whitman’s irrigation comes from the deep aquifer under campus. The excess warm water discharged from the system might cause harm to the anadromous fish living in College Creek, a tributary of Mill Creek. Fish are sensitive to water temperature, as warmer water cannot hold as much air.

But Carson doesn’t think that discharging water into the creek will cause much harm, if any.

“There’s no water in Mill Creek in much of the summer, and for us to add water of any temperature is probably good,” said Carson.

Donahue estimated that the project cost is around $800,000. The construction will require trenching in 200-foot sections across campus, and a large storage tank has already been removed from the science building. Donahue hopes there won’t be any inconvenience to students, staff and faculty as construction gets underway.

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