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Recovering from the South Chiller Plant fire

Damaged chiller

Damaged chiller

On April 28, 2016, the Illinois State University South Chiller Plant (SCPP) experienced a fire in the electrical room due to a failure of a high voltage electrical component. This  caused a power supply failure to the two 1,000 ton capacity chillers in the plant. The loss of this chiller plant affected the air conditioning capacity for buildings located on the south Illinois State University quad. ISU maintenance staff immediately went to work in order provide rerouted chilled water to that portion of the campus by feeding it from other chiller plants on campus through a campus chilled water interconnection system. As a result, the affected buildings were receiving all available campus cooling by the end of that day.

Knowing peak cooling season was approaching, a temporary rental chiller was secured and tied into the existing chilled water system at the SCPP for half of the lost capacity. This temporary chiller, pre-loaded on a semi-trailer, was easily backed inside the SCPP building, making temporary work and connections easier. Temporary connections were made to the existing chilled water piping systems and electrical system by ISU trade staff. The temporary chiller was up and operational on May 30, 2016, five days after receiving it on campus due to the diligence of the University’s in-house pipe fitters, electricians and technicians. This was only 32 days after the fire on April 28, 2016.

The electrical switch gear, the source of the explosion and resulting fire, was reviewed by several independent professional inspectors. Forensic engineering analysis confirmed that a fault occurred in an electrical component called a surge suppressor. This surge suppressor protects the chiller plant electrical equipment downstream against damage from power surges. During the incident the surge suppressor protected the two 1,000 ton high voltage chillers that it was designed to protect and other equipment in the same electrical cabinet.

Once the investigation was complete, ISU staff hired an outside contractor to rebuild the damaged electrical switch gear. That rebuild work started in mid-August and will conclude in late October. A complete recommissioning process of the system will be done when the rebuild work is finished. The rental chiller will be returned shortly thereafter and the chiller plant will return to its normal operation and be ready for the cooling season starting in the spring of 2017.

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