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CCU’s Central Cooling Plant a step for efficient grow

By Derrick Bracey

With Coastal Carolina University’s constant expansion comes the expectation of efficiency. CCU’s new 7,200-square-foot Central Cooling Plant not only meets these expectations; it exceeds them. The first phase of the plant has just come online and will service more buildings through spring and summer. The plant is pumping 1,000 tons of cooling capacity to start, the plan is to progressively work up to 2,800 tons when expansion is complete in 2025. The buildings currently included in this new matrix are the R. Cathcart Smith Science Building, Kenneth E. Swain Hall, Kimbel Library and Bryan Information Commons, Wheelwright Auditorium, Spadoni College of Education / Kearns Hall and Lib Jackson Student Center.

But it doesn’t stop there. When the project reaches its full design of 2,800 tons, it will also cool Atheneum Hall, the softball and baseball complex, phase II of the science annex, a new academic building, and a food and catering service adjacent to the Williams-Brice Recreation Center. The final phase of the cooling plant could extend the serviceable range to future buildings, if required, at CCU’s U.S. 501 entrance.

“The purpose is to get as many buildings as we can off their own chillers and served by a central unit,” says Project Manager Ron Gardner of CCU’s Department of Facilities Planning and Management. “It’s a state-of-the-art direct digital control system that will reduce our energy usage by up to 40 percent.”

The plant itself is made up of a cooling tower, water-cooled chillers and cooling pumps. All of the buildings supported by the plant will receive their air conditioning via an underground chilled water distribution system. The system will be controlled in each building with automated controls. The new system will use the existing natural gas systems to heat all of the buildings on its matrix. Natural gas is considered an environmentally friendly and energy-efficient source of heat.

This setup also allows for a more efficient system, housed in a smaller area. The cooling plant takes up considerably less space than the combined number of units it will replace at the individual buildings. “Plus, we free up the space by burying the lines underground and use less air in the process,” Gardner says.

After the plant comes online, at full power, serving the first phase of facilities, it will only use 70 percent of its cooling capacity or 700 tons of the 1,000 tons of total capacity. “The system was designed to run at its optimum efficiency between 80 and 90 percent of the total cooling capacity,” Gardner says.

This efficiency leads to a better certification from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), which is the international system for certifying green building projects. LEED rankings can range from silver, gold and platinum. “This centralized plant will help all of our current and future building projects to be recognized with the highest level of certification possible,” Gardner says. “And we only had to dig up the whole campus to get here.” 

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