McCollum mechanical issues cancel class

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  • Mike Henney stands next to one of the 250 pound bearings to be installed.

  • Mike Henney stands next to one of the 250 pound bearings to be installed.

  • A 12-foot ladder leans against the side of the fan in one of McCollum Science Halls air-handling systems, which is undergoing repairs following the failure of two bearings last week.

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Due to the failure of two bearings in the fan which serves the air handling system in the central part of McCollum Science Hall, all classes normally held in that part of the building have been canceled or moved online from Wednesday evening, March 24 through Tuesday, March 30.

“It will be down through Tuesday, and then hopefully it will be back up by Wednesday,” said Kelly Stark, UNI’s Energy Engineer, on Friday afternoon. “We’re still uncovering things to find out the actual situation.”

According to Mike Zwanziger, Assistant Vice President and Director of Facilities Management, the failure of the system meant that air could not be circulated to the central part of the building to the level necessary to meet CDC guidelines.

McCollum also experienced mechanical issues in August 2020 when the motor which powers the largest of the building’s five ventilation units failed, causing a loss of air conditioning. Projected high temperatures of above 90 degrees led the university to cancel classes in the building for one afternoon and evening.

Zwanziger said the current issue is not directly related to the August issue, but “not completely unexpected” due to the age of the system.

“Much of the equipment that serves the original part of the building is original, now 53 years old,” he wrote. “These are large bearings that needed to be ordered, and the change out process will take some time.” 

Zwanziger anticipated in his email that parts would not arrive until Monday. However, the bearings actually arrived on Friday, and by 1 p.m. that day, a team of UNI employees was already starting the installation.

The fan and the associated heating and cooling system are located in the basement of McCollum, a massive 12-foot-tall unit in the center of the building.

Amid the clanking of chains and the whirring of motors, Mike Henny, the university’s HVAC Supervisor, described the magnitude of the project ahead.

“This is the biggest fan we have on campus,” he said of the 200-horsepower fan. “We have some 100-horse ones, but we don’t have anything close to this in size.”

The new bearings, each weighing more than 250 pounds, must be installed on each side of the fan. A rigging system to support the fan and fan shaft had been set up on Thursday to prepare for the installation of the bearings when they arrived.

Although the early arrival of the parts will certainly facilitate the process, Henny said they still expect repairs will not be completed before Tuesday.

“Everything’s big, everything’s heavy and it just takes time. And of course, not everything comes apart like you want it to, either,” he said. “It’s still a process.”

Classes in the new section of McCollum can still meet as scheduled, since the building has multiple air handling systems. This includes the western part of the building, the auditoriums at the eastern end of the building, and rooms 11, 21, 101, 103, 001, 201, 37, 39 and 137.

In the initial announcement on Wednesday, not all of these classrooms were included on the list where classes could safely be held. However, on Thursday, when the building closure was extended through Tuesday, the list was expanded.

“We were able to better define the exact areas that this air handler serve (sic), and allow classes to continue in the areas that are served by other air handling units,” Zwanziger wrote. “We are working with Environmental Health & Safety and the departments affected to come up with other strategies to mitigate the issues for classes.”