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Campus cooling system undergoes upgrade

Valley College is the first campus in the district to get new a thermal storage facility.

By Jerry Ough, Staff Writer

Photo by Solomon Smith/The Valley Star

Nestled amid the decayed relics of the abandoned bungalows on the south side of the Valley College campus, a new way to cool down campus buildings is taking shape.

Nearly 100 steel reinforced concrete posts are being sunk 50 feet into the ground to support a concrete pad large enough to hold a 58 feet wide by 48 feet tall water storage tank. It is designed to cut down the cost of cooling campus buildings and the 877,532 gallon tank will be connected by underground polyethylene pipes to the campus heating and cooling plant. That plant will chill the water at night, pump the cold water into the storage tank and then use the water during the day to keep classrooms and offices cool.

Before tank construction started in January 2019, the Los Angeles Community College District installed new higher capacity “chillers,” machines that turn water cold, and new pumps in the campus heating and cooling plant.

The new system is designed to eliminate the need for running “chillers” during the day and, instead, use that equipment at night when the cost of electricity is much lower, according to Bryan Layton, superintendent and general foreman with Southland Industries.

The thermal storage tank system is the first of its kind in the district and was supposed to be up and running by the end of the year. However, the weather last winter changed the timeline.

“We’ve had delays because of the recent rains,” said Layton.

Since the sandy soil that Valley sits on is too unstable, especially in an earthquake, to support the tank, those 50-foot-deep concrete posts will safely support the steel storage tank and the more than 7 million pounds of water.

“The biggest design challenge has been a rigid foundation so that the structure won’t settle after it’s filled with water,” said Bruce Johnson, Build-LACCD Project Manager.

Digging the trenches for the underground pipes that connect the cooling plant, campus buildings and storage tank presented a complex challenge. Before digging the trenches, Build-LACCD had to “find a pathway of least resistance” according to Johnson.

The LACCD surveyed and mapped out all the Valley underground utilities. The evidence of that mapping is all the little pink flags on wires stuck in the ground and all the spay painted pink and blue symbols on the sidewalks and pavement all across campus.

Three years of planning preceded construction and the regulatory approval process was a reason for the delay. A big technical challenge was getting the project design approved by the Division of State Architects.

“They’d never seen this type of project and they were very cautious with their approvals,” said Cameron Garnier, senior project manager with Southland Industries.

The next campus in the district to get this new kind of cooling system is LA City College. The $9 million Valley cooling system project is expected to be complete by March 2020 and will provide air conditioning to the entire campus just in time for the warmest days of the 2020 Valley spring semester.


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