Crane extracting boilers in Tom Brown-Pete Wright

Crane extracting boilers in Tom Brown-Pete Wright

Cranes in the TCU skyline do not always signal more construction, the one over Tom Brown-Pete Wright last month just meant a repair was hard to reach.

On June 27, contractors used a crane to remove what could be the first of ten boilers to fail in the Tom Brown-Pete Wright residence hall.

The defunct 1,800 pound boiler hoisted above Fish Hall signalled the start of plans to extract and replace the attic boilers that supply hot water to the residents of Tom Brown-Pete Wright, Russell Kintz head supervisor for boilers, said.

Despite being carefully maintained for the past 14 years, all of the boilers are past their ten-year warranty, Kintz said. When boilers exceed their warranties, they run a greater risk of sustaining unrecoverable problems.

“We can replace parts but we can’t replace a tank,” Kintz said. “So when we detected cracks in the tank in Fish Hall we had no choice but to replace it.”

The same thing could happen at any time to the nine other boilers, said Rex Bell, assistant director of heating ventilation and air conditioning.

Contractors would eventually install roof access hatches in Britain, Walker and Mabee residence halls. But TCU planned to install hatches only after the equipment breaks down to save money, Bell said.

Backup water heaters could supply the residence halls with plenty of hot water until crews install hatches and new boilers.

Why does the operation involve a crane?

In 1999, contractors installed the 120 gallon boilers while the residence halls were under construction. During construction, builders often hoist heavy equipment to the top of the building before installing the roof. This is a common practice, Bell said.

But common practice does not always mean long-term convenience.

The 120 gallon boilers are too big to fit through any of the doorways inside the building. And even if they could fit, it would be too risky to take something that heavy down the stairs, Bell said.

“It was our safest, easiest option,” Bell said.

Bell and his team evaluated options for the removal of the boiler for three weeks before finally deciding to install a hatch and call a crane.

At $13,000 per hatch, it would cost the university roughly $52,000 to install four more hatches on top of the $20,000 for each new boiler, Bell said.

The good news is that the incoming boiler models are more gas-efficient than the older models, Kintz said. There are few boilers on campus that operate under 90% efficiency, he said.

Long-term, the hatches will not change how Kintz and his crew maintain the boiler units. But the hatches could make future roof repairs a little easier, Kintz said.

The roof access would not create a security or safety problem, said Kelly Ham, TCU Police Sergeant. Hatches such as the one installed at Fish Hall are double doors which are next to impossible to get passed without a key.

In Ham’s 27 years of experience with campus police, these types of hatches have never been an issue.