St. John's College dorm to use new climate system

Geothermal heating, cooling saves energy

October 05, 2003|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

The grassy, tree-lined campus of St. John's College is about to get even greener.

In a bid to become more environmentally responsible, the liberal arts college in Annapolis is outfitting its newest dorm, now under construction, with a geothermal heating and cooling system.

"The college has made an attempt to take advantage of `green' building technologies where possible," said Steve Linhard, assistant treasurer at St. John's. "We're just trying to do our part."

The geothermal system pipes a mixture of water and antifreeze through a network of tubes underground, where the temperature is always 50 to 55 degrees. The temperature of the liquid is then used to heat or cool air before it is pumped into dorm rooms.

The technology uses less energy than traditional heating and air-conditioning systems because it does not need to create drastic changes in temperature.

"Conventional heat pumps are air-to-air," said Mike Huber, president of Chesapeake Geosystems, the Anne Arundel County-based company installing the system. "The problem is they try to take air that is sometimes 10 degrees outside and try to raise it to 70 degrees."

In the middle of an expansive sports field overlooking College Creek, dozens of narrow holes have been drilled 300 feet into the ground. Plastic pipes protrude from the holes among mounds of clay and sand that were dug up during the drilling. Within a month, workers will connect the pipes to form a grid and restore the field.

The geothermal system is expected to save the college $5,000 a year in energy costs to heat and cool the 18,000-square-foot dormitory, which will house 48 students starting next fall. The system costs $294,000, about $27,000 more than a conventional system, but officials say the cost will be recouped in about five years.

St. John's has taken energy-saving measures in the past, although most buildings on the campus, which dates to the late 1700s, are connected to a natural-gas heating plant on the college's grounds.

One building, Mellon Hall, has an air-conditioning system that cools water at night, when electricity is cheaper. The off-peak use also lessens how much power plants need to produce for the region at one time, Linhard said.

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