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Geothermal construction interrupts traffic flow

At any university, going back to school is interesting, challenging, somewhat nerve racking but an altogether exciting experience for those involved. It’s the time of year that can lead to new friends, seeing old friends, new classes and new professors, new accommodations or just a renewed commute.

Jake Essman / The Arbiter

For students who have been on University Drive recently, it’s apparent the bright orange cones and fencing signify the seemingly ongoing and never ending construction on  campus.

A closer look reveals the majority of the orange cones decorating the campus belong to the City of Boise and their geothermal project, not the university itself.

The geothermal project is a pipeline that connects Boise State to the City of Boise’s geothermal heating system. Since 1983, Boise has utilized the system of natural geothermal water that comes out of the ground at over 170 degrees to heat various buildings in downtown Boise. The water travels through the pipeline to designated areas and then is injected back into the geothermal aquifer located near Julia Davis Park, according to the City of Boise website.

According to their site, the new construction will attach the Administration Building, Center for Environmental Sciences and Economics and the Student Union Building to the environmentally-friendly system.

The Morrison Center, Multipurpose Building, Interactive Learning Center, the Math and Geosciences Building and the new Micron Business and Economic Building were already connected last summer as part of the first phase of the project.

When it is done, around 660,000 square feet of the campus building landscape will derive heat from the natural source.

The project started July 23 and will be completed by mid-September according to the project traffic advisory.  In other words, the project was scheduled right in the midst of the brand new school year.

Why would the city plan a project that would rip up the main street of the university knowing thousands of students and faculty would be returning in the middle of the mess?

According to City of Boise Community Relations Supervisor Vince Trimboli, there were a couple of different factors that dictated the schedule.

“Two things factored into the construction scheduling: budget and the contractor’s
schedule.”

“Boise State University and the City are providing the local share to match a Department of Energy grant for the project,” said Trimboli. “The construction contract had to be scheduled in two phases.”

The two phases Trimboli explained were, “so the City could budget our local share over
two years.”

Trimboli expressed it was the goal to get the work done before school started, however it didn’t work out that way.

“Our goal was to complete the Phase 1B work during the 2012 summer break. However, our contractor working on other contracts they had obtained between our Phase 1A and 1B, could not resume work until July. So unfortunately some of the work has spilled into the fall semester,” Trimboli added. “We have worked closely with Boise State officials to alert students about the project and to be mindful of the
construction.”

Although the timing is unfortunate, the benefits of the project seem to far outweigh the temporary inconvenience. Mr. Trimboli explained the huge upside to such an endeavor. “Geothermal heat is a clean, affordable and renewable source of energy. This source of heat also has essentially a zero carbon impact and will contribute significantly to the university reducing their carbon footprint. Boise is fortunate to have this great natural
asset.”

He also said, “Our Mayor and Council want to maximize it’s effectiveness as far as possible. It’s been in our master plan to extend it to the Boise State Campus for nearly 30-years. Thanks to the help of Representative Mike Simpson and Senator Mike Crapo we were able to secure Federal funding to finally make the project
possible.”

The plan seems to be a great thing for the university, the city and the environment. Considering such a plan was 30 years in the making, a couple of weeks of inconvenience seem to be very minor.