MRU’s ‘Big Chiller’ down and out
Broken AC motor not yet sent for repairs
by Shannon Galley
It was a sweltering start to school at Mount Royal.
As temperatures rose outside, there wasn’t much relief to be found indoors.
The larger air conditioning machine or, as maintenance calls it, “The Big Chiller” broke down before the first week classes making parts of the building less than comfortable.
The only areas not affected were the EA, EB and EC buildings as well as some theatres, recreation and residence.
Communications professor Sally Haney recalled teaching in the O-Wing during a particularly hot afternoon and said the classroom was extremely warm, making it hard to stay focused.
An email was sent out to faculty and administration letting them know about the problem and possible temperature fluctuations.
“I wish students had received some info about the cool mornings and hot afternoons, then they could have prepared,” Haney said. “Fifteen minutes passed and I could see student’s faces growing more red.”
Mike Brunner, head of Mount Royal University’s maintenance, said the unusually hot temperatures outside combined with the start of school were too much for the big chiller to handle.
The unit is located in central maintenance area behind Wyckham House.
“There are two chillers, a 600-ton chiller, which deals with temperatures 18 to 20 degrees and the 1400-ton big chiller that deals with higher temperatures,” Brunner said. “The motor that runs the chiller had a short, went to start it up and it died.”
In an effort to reduce temperatures inside, hot air was vented out at night and cool outside air was brought in. This made for colder morning temperatures and hot afternoons, but Brunner said it could have been much worse without the nightly venting.
“We can heat the building like crazy, but the electrical peak is in September, and the higher than normal temperatures caused the problem,” he said. “With the fall temperatures we are experiencing this week there is more cooling at night and we are taking advantage of those colder temperatures.”
The big chiller, which was installed in the 1980s, is not easy to fix. Because of its size, the motor repairs alone can cost $150,000 to $200,000 and it has to be shipped to Ontario for repairs.
Brunner said it would have been more effective to have a few smaller chillers to deal with higher temperatures, that way when something happens there’s a back-up plan.
“We are going to review the needs of the campus and make some improvements,” he said.
The big chiller motor had not been sent out for repairs at press time. Brunner said they need to assess what to do and are looking into funding for new equipment to improve the current situation.
“People are used to being comfortable,” he said. “There were a few complaints about the cold mornings, but people made do with their own situations.
“People coped well. It could have been a lot worse.”
Haney said the cooler temperatures are helping, and she is hoping for them to continue.
“Keeping things in perspective, there are people around the world who are dealing with grim learning situations,” she said. “It’s just something we had to deal with.”