The Importance of University Infrastructure

From people to structures, all good systems bear upon on a sturdy and reliable framework. Mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) infrastructure is the framework of a successful campus. Central equipment, utilities, and buildings are all components of campus infrastructure that help students, faculty, and staff perform to their highest potential. Planning, maintaining, and optimizing your campus infrastructure ensures uninterrupted and efficient operation.

Master Planning

Whether you are renovating an existing building or envisioning a new building on campus, planning is critical. Program and site development master plans are common, but MEP infrastructure master plans are often overlooked.

  • MEP master plans should include evaluation of existing MEP systems and load profiles of each building to analyze their lifespan, reliability, and impact on central systems.
    A comprehensive master plan allows prioritization of improvements to coordinate with annual budgets.
  • Master planning helps determine if central heating and cooling plants make economic sense compared to localized building equipment.
  • MEP master plans should work in unison with other campus master plans to determine future heating, cooling, and electrical loads and if the capacity exists to serve them.

Central Plants

Central utility plants are the heart of the campus infrastructure. They can also be the biggest opportunity for energy savings and reduction of environmental impact.

  • Existing equipment should be regularly compared to today’s best available technology to identify possible reductions in environmental impact or simple paybacks of replacement equipment.
  • Central equipment should never be replaced without evaluating current and future needs. Building occupancies, HVAC systems, and electrical power requirements are constantly changing and an in-kind replacement of equipment may not be the most economical solution.
  • An advantage of central utility plants is that they serve a diversified campus load. Establishing load profiles for each building allows central plants to be right-sized and reduce capital investment.
  • Central equipment sizing should always consider redundancy and off-season loads. Equal sized boilers and chillers may provide maximum redundancy, but smaller “pony” boilers and chillers may provide the most efficient means of meeting summer reheat loads and winter cooling loads.
  • Plant design should consider source energy diversity and efficiency. Electrical demand charges can be reduced through ice storage or demand avoidance generators. Cogeneration equipment efficiently provides two products, such as electricity and hot water, from one fuel input.
  • Operational and maintenance considerations should never be neglected in a central plant layout. Adequate horizontal and vertical working clearances need to be provided for cleaning boiler tubes, removing chiller compressors, and servicing pumps.
  • Although MEP infrastructure is critical, an unobtrusive central plant building is also a necessity. Campus aesthetics are an important part of the student experience and the integration of a central utility building is no exception.

Utilities & Campus Distribution Systems

The obvious analogy is that if the central plant is the heart, then campus distribution systems are the circulatory systems of the campus.

  • Whether part of a master plan or not, comprehensive site utility plans should be developed to analyze current a future pinch points. Services should be available to support the next campus building before breaking ground instead of being forced to undertake both projects simultaneously.
  • It may take a significant time to establish or upgrade electric, natural gas, and domestic water services to campus. Public utilities should be contacted as early as possible with potential projects and master plans to coordinate this effort.

Campus MEP infrastructure is most successful when it is reliable, energy efficient, available for extension, and rarely noticed by students or visitors. It takes planning and diligence to create a campus infrastructure that meets these goals. If you need assistance in understanding more about your existing campus infrastructure or have questions for your next project, please do not hesitate to contact Michael Rader, PE at (717) 845-7654 or

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