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Feature Story

Old School is New Again

Kent Booty Associate Editor

Longwood University has practiced sustainability by heating with wood products for 26 years. That practice, which possibly is unique among state colleges in Virginia, will be even more fuel-efficient once the new heating plant opens in January 2010.

Sawdust used for heating plant"Right now sawdust covers about 70 to 80 percent of our heating load, and it supplies 100 percent until the coldest months of the year," said Rick Myers, director of Facilities Management. "However, once the new plant comes online, sawdust will supply 100 percent of our fuel needs 12 months out of the year."

The new heating plant, going up on Barlow Field where Longwood's field hockey team once played, will have two storage silos for the sawdust that is Longwood's primary heating fuel. The side-by-side silos, enclosed within the 11,500-square foot building, are 40 feet tall, have a combined storage capacity of 40,000 cubic feet, and are made of poured concrete. The facility will have two hybrid wood boilers, which can burn either wood products or oil, and the capacity for a third boiler to be added later. 

The new plant will replace a heating plant that dates to 1939. One end of the new building is less than 50 feet from one side of the old plant, which fronts on Madison Street, directly behind Graham Hall, and features a familiar smokestack.That section of the new plant, long and rectangular,will house the boilers, one of which will be new. The silos will be in the other, slightly taller section, near Venable Street.The plant is being built by Branch & Associates Inc. of Roanoke and was designed by RMF Engineering Inc. of Baltimore. The cost of the project is $12.14 million.

heating plantThe existing boiler that will go in the new plant is currentlyin a building of corrugated steel that adjoins the old plant and opened in 2005. "That boiler, at the moment, burns only sawdust, but once it's moved to the new building it will also be permitted to burn No. 6 fuel oil, which is the back-up fuel Longwood burns when it's not burning sawdust," said Bob Chambers, project inspection manager for Facilities Management, who is overseeing the construction of the heating plant. Each boiler has a capacity of 600 boiler horsepower, which can produce 20,700 poundsof saturated steam per hour.

The boiler fuel feeder system (the way in which sawdust is fed into the boilers' furnace) will be more efficient and reliable in the new heating plant compared to the system in the current plant. "The system will utilize air instead of an auger system, greatly reducing the amount of unburned wood waste and downtime due to repair," said Myers. 

Longwood has burned wood products since switching from No. 6 fuel oil as a primary fuel in 1983. The university has burned wood chips, sawdust and other types of wood products. Now it burns sawdust; mostly pine and some hardwood.The sawdust, primarily a waste product from mills, is relatively inexpensive and biodegradable. Burning the sawdust is not only cost-effective but ecologically responsible, due to its hazardous emissions being lower than gas, oil and coal. 

Related Story: National Wildlife Federation Honors Longwood for Sustainability Efforts