The two towers

Chico State’s upgrading its infrastructure to keep up with new building construction

Next fall, a second water storage tank will be completed next to the existing one at Chico State’s Central Plant.

Next fall, a second water storage tank will be completed next to the existing one at Chico State’s Central Plant.


A huge water-storage tank with a fierce-looking Wildcat logo is a familiar landmark for students who’ve played lacrosse, flag football, soccer, ultimate disc or softball on a multipurpose field in front of Yolo Hall. Positioned in the southwest corner of Chico State’s sprawling athletics complex, it’s visible from the bike path that runs along the western boundary of campus, parallel to the train tracks.

Why is it there? As most passersby likely are unaware, the tank, constructed in the early 1960s, is a critical piece of university infrastructure. The water stored inside is used to heat and cool every building on campus.

“A lot of people probably don’t know what it does or that it’s even there,” said David Wymore, a project manager with Chico State’s Planning, Design and Construction Department.

However, people probably do wonder why, since early July, the athletic field has been torn out, a row of redwood trees has been cut down and a chain-link fence has gone up around the area. That’s because the university is building a similarly proportioned water tank adjacent to the existing one as part of the Central Plant Modifications Project.

It’s partially for the sake of increased efficiency. The Central Plant’s boiler and chiller equipment, housed in a structure at the base of the water tank, sorely needs upgrading, said Sandra Beck, Chico State’s campus architect. The main impetus, however, is new construction on campus—specifically, the Arts & Humanities Building (see “Open university,” page 24).

“We now have more square footage on campus than what the existing plant is able to cool,” she said. “So, we’re adding capacity.”

It’s a problem the university has seen coming for more than a decade. Chico State’s Master Plan 2005 notes that new building construction was “severely hampered by the lack of sufficient utility infrastructure to support the current and planned facilities efficiently and cost-effectively.”

The Central Plant’s storage tank is 75 feet tall and holds 1.3 million gallons of water, which runs through on-site chillers and boilers. Then, steam and cold water is distributed to the university’s buildings through a series of underground pipes and used either for heating or air conditioning.

“The chilled water and the steam, it’s all in a recirculating system,” Wymore said. “Once the water is in the system, it goes into the buildings, it’s used and returned [to the plant] to be recooled or reheated. There’s minimal water being wasted.”

Due to Pacific Gas & Electric’s rate schedule, which charges more for energy expenditures during the day, the plant usually runs its chillers at night—ideally, at least. That hasn’t been the case since the Arts & Humanities Building was completed, Wymore said.

“Right now, we’re over our tank capacity and cooling water during peak times,” he said, “so we’re paying more to cool that water than if we had an additional tank and a chiller.”

Construction of the new tank—along with a second structure to house more boilers and a chiller—is set for completion in November 2017.

In total, the project will cost $18.9 million, Beck said. It’s paid for by infrastructure improvement funds through California State University’s Capital Outlay Program and money directed from the Arts & Humanities Building project budget.

New equipment for both buildings will be acquired though lease financing, Beck said. The plant is still using its original boilers from the 1960s.

“The existing equipment is at a point where it could fail very easily,” she said. “Technology has changed so much over the years, especially with boilers, chillers and pumps.”

Even though the plant will double in size, it should cost less to operate the equipment once it’s upgraded, she said.

When the dust settles next fall, the university will replant the 15 redwood trees it cut down this summer, Beck said. The sports field will be resurfaced and reopened to the public. The nearby ropes course, used mostly by outdoor education students, will remain open throughout the construction period.

In the meantime, as a trade-off for closing the sports field in front of Yolo Hall, the university has been patching up and watering a long-neglected field on the north end of the athletic complex, between the University Soccer Stadium and West Sacramento Avenue.

The project may have an eye on the future, but for now Beck and Wymore are focusing on day-to-day challenges, such as directing heavy equipment and concrete-pouring trucks around students passing through the athletics complex.

“It’s an area of campus that there’s less attention on,” Beck said, “but that doesn’t mean there’s less activity.”