Project will tear down landmark chimney
by David Leone
WAKE FOREST — Sometime this year, a local landmark is coming down.
The 129-foot smokestack that sits atop the boiler house at North Street and North Wingate streets will be torn down as the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary upgrades its 50-year-old boilers and steam heat system.
New, more efficient gas heat boilers will be built in a more central location on campus, said Ryan Hutchinson, executive vice president for operations at the seminary.
“This is a terribly exciting project of upgrading our steam system on campus,” said Hutchinson, adding that the maintenance and upkeep has been such a chore and expense over the years.
“It will save us about $30,000 a year on utility costs having more efficient boilers,” he said.
The estimated $1 million project will be paid for through a bond issue this summer. Construction should be completed before winter.
Seminary leaders will add the expense to an existing $6.3 million tax exempt bond issue that was used to construct off-campus housing.
The existing boilers and any piping that isn’t reused will be sold for scrap. The building will be saved — and used for storage, Hutchinson said.
Originally, all the buildings and Wake Forest Baptist Church were on the steam system. Five remain — including Stealey and Appleby halls, the library, the Ledford Center and Binkley Chapel — and it’s cheaper to build new boilers for them than to convert them to gas heat. A small structure to house several of the boilers will be built next to the library, which is where most of the expense comes from.
Others will be built in the basement of Binkley and the Ledford Center, vastly reducing the amount of steam pipes needed.
Also, since the chimney needs to be inspected every year and mitigation measures have had to be made in the past to stabilize it, taking it down will save money as well, officials said.
“It’s a hazard that’s just a liability,” Travis Williams, the seminary’s director of facilities management, said Monday.
Razing smokestack will cost $75,000 to $100,000, Williams said, though one factor could affect that. It’s currently being tested for asbestos. Once used almost universally as a heat shield for piping and in electrical insulation, the fibrous dust from asbestos was later found to cause serious lung damage when inhaled.
If asbestos is found, it has to be removed and disposed of properly, which could double that project cost, Williams noted.
Converted from coal
The structure housing the boilers was completed in November, 1924, according to an archived edition of the Wake Forest College newspaper, Old, Gold & Black. The smokestack for the original coal-fired boilers was built by Webster Chimney Company of Chicago, rising 135 feet high (several feet were taken off the top about eight years ago for stability’s sake).
“Thirty more days and many cold feet in Bostwick (dorm) will be warm,” an Oct. 25, 1924 article reads.
It was built with two boilers, though there was room for four more. It was problematic even from the start. Another college newspaper article in 1930 describes pipes being dug up to repair leaks.
In 1963, the system was upgraded and two enormous 450 horsepower (hp) boilers were constructed and the steam pipes on campus upgraded at that time. Later, those boilers were converted to gas heat.
As they’ve aged, the aged system has become troublesome.
“There have been over $300,000 worth of repairs and replacement to the steam and condensate lines over the past three years alone,” Hutchinson detailed in a press release. “Presently, there are leaks in the lines which have yet to be located resulting in up to 230 gallons of lost water per day in the coldest seasons. Due to the leaks more chemicals are required to treat the water to maintain proper levels which means more chemicals are being discarded into the ground,” he wrote.
The chemicals are used to prevent grit buildup in the pipes, according to Cldye Beal, the supervisor who operated the boiler system for years.
Those aren’t the only expenses that have added up over the years. Fuel expenses are $60,000 annually. Throw in chemicals, water and electricity, and that rises to $80,000 a year, Hutchinson wrote.
The existing boilers are on the lowest part of campus, because water drains downhill, Beal said. The system automatically maintains a constant 45 to 55-pound pressure, recycling the steam, occasionally supplemented by additional water or heat, by the boiler operator.
One benefit to installing more centrally located boilers is fewer pipes, which lose much of their heat in transit. There have also been various cracks and leaks over the years — just last winter a damaged underground pipe vented steam into the air just off North Street, looking like some sort of geological oddity.
As the system was upgraded and new campus buildings constructed, the need for two-story boilers was lessened. Now, they only use about 25hp of the 250hp boiler motors.
“We’ve got a big overkill,” said Beal.
(At right: When this building is decommissioned, its 129-foot smokestack will come down.)