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On Campus: Space Invaders

Control Room, Baker Chilled Water Plant, North Campus

Michael Forster, assistant director of utility operations

Michael Foster

Facilities workers are often the unsung heroes of campus life. Michael Forster, an engineer who works at the Baker Chilled Water Plant, a dark, mirrored building tucked away behind the Solar Strand, certainly fits that description. Providing the cold water for air conditioning and refrigeration across UB North is not only a big job but a complex one, Forster says. The plant engineers work in shifts 24/7 to manage the “chillers”—seven enormous water pumps. They guard against dangerous refrigerant leaks and maintain miles of cold water pipe, while also tracking hourly changes in electricity costs to keep UB’s energy expenses low.

The office of Michael Forster, assistant director of utility operations

The office of Michael Forster, assistant director of utility operations. Photo: Douglas Levere

A - Status indicator board

This board illustrates which chillers are running and the respective temperatures of the chilled and condensed (warm) water entering and leaving the plant.

B - Air monitor

Engineers take this along when working in confined spaces. It indicates whether there is sufficient oxygen and whether any explosives or gases are present.

C - Chillers

Through a process of evaporation, condensation, expansion and compression, the water is cooled to about 40 degrees, then pumped through nine miles of piping around the North Campus.

D - Log book

The engineers take notes of incoming calls and problems in an hour-by-hour log so that those on later shifts have a record of what took place.

E - Oxygen depletion alarm

If there were a big refrigerant leak on the plant floor, the refrigerant itself wouldn’t kill you—but it would displace all the oxygen (which, obviously, would).

F - Fire annunciator panel

If any smoke alarms or heat detectors go off, it shows up on this panel.

G - Clipboard

This is the cheat sheet—like the panel on a microwave that tells you how long to cook popcorn or a potato. It’s the information you reach for on a daily basis.