City Campus Utility Plant 2

The City Campus Utility Plant, located at 905 N 14th Street, is pictured on Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

As part of our initiative called Curious Cornhuskers, an anonymous reader asked The Daily Nebraskan, “What is the ‘utility plant’ north of Cook Pavilion, and why does it make such loud noises at random times? (Like a loud broken fan).”

Harper, Schramm, Smith and The Village residence halls at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln are situated directly across 14th Street from the City Campus Utility Plant. This close proximity causes many students who live here to be subjected to the high-pitched noises that erupt from the utility plant at seemingly random times. 

The City Campus Utility Plant was originally built in 1929, making it one of the oldest buildings on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus. Clay Kelly, assistant director for Facilities Management & Planning Utility Services, explained the building’s importance to UNL.

“The purpose of the utility plant and its distribution systems essentially is to provide heating and cooling to campus buildings,” Kelly said. “We generate steam and chilled water for heating and cooling. We also distribute electricity for all campus buildings as well.”

The utility plant ensures buildings remain certain temperatures, and its unpleasant howl is a byproduct of the building’s internal processes. Aaron Evans, engineering supervisor for Utility Services, explained how the noise comes from venting boilers inside the building. 

“We have to keep a backup boiler on hot and ready to go in case anything happens to our other units,” Evans said. “In order to do that we have to basically create steam in that boiler, but it’s a lower pressure than what’s going to campus so we basically just have to get rid of it. So we are venting steam, and the really loud noise is because it’s going from a really high pressure to a really low pressure.”

Evans said there are times the venting takes as long as ten minutes. Both Kelly and Evans said they acknowledge the noise could be bothersome to those around the building. Fortunately for sleepy campus residents, there are plans in the near future to minimize the roar of the boilers.

“There’s a current project to remedy the noise because we do recognize that it is fairly loud,” Kelly said. “We are in the process of installing a muffler to dampen that sound.”

According to Kelly, the muffler is planned to be implemented during Utility Services’ annual maintenance, which typically takes place during May.