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Power out, generator in

During repairs and routine maintenance last Saturday, a high voltage feeder for Olmsted Hall shorted out and the building was placed on a generator.

“Every Friday of Thanksgiving, we have done high voltage maintenance and/or repair because that has been the best day to shut power off on campus because no one is here. We were doing high voltage improvements and repairs Friday, which prefaced this short,” Director of Facilities Mark Chambers said.

Chambers said Drake owns its own “voltage electrical distribution network,” which allows Drake to receive electricity at half-price by buying at a higher voltage and then distributing it itself.

“We own the high voltage networks, we own the transforms. That basically gets us electricity at half-price from utility,” Chambers said. “But that also puts the responsibility of the network on us.”

Electricity to the school is run on an underground loop. This means that buildings are connected to the power grid from two different sides, which allows the facilities workers to power the buildings from an alternative direction if one side should go bad.  Electrical and HVAC supervisor Rick Oberembt said when the short happened Olmsted became isolated from both directions.

“(The switch) blew up causing Olmsted to be isolated from either loop, we try make a double loop so we can double feed these,” Oberembt said.  “At the time when we blew the joint, we were isolated from both sides, and I had no more fittings to make the repair.”

Oberembt said the issue began last December when a “splicer manhole” was discovered to be blown and smoking by Aliber Hall.

“We isolated it, insulated it as best we could and got the power back on, but we still had to repair the issue,” Oberembt said.

The issue was to be repaired by contractor Baker Electric during the traditional Thanksgiving power shutdown. Oberembt believes the changeover went well but the “delicacy” of the work caused the issue.

“When you splice these things they are so delicate … this splice was not perfect by manufacture or human error,” Oberembt said.

Oberembt, who was in the basement of Olmsted, saw a fire in the splice’s manhole.

“It looks black. It is a black haze, you cannot see anything till you get all the power out of it,” Oberembt said. “It just suffocates itself, there is nothing to burn in there. It is all concrete.”

Chief Electrician Ron Tart, who supervised at the time of the short, believes Olmsted should regain power on Wednesday afternoon.

“They have to go back into the manhole, pull new wire up from Olmsted to Aliber and then make a new connection from Forest Avenue plant to Olmsted,” Tart said.

Tart and his fellow supervisor worked 42 hours straight during the general repairs and the short, but he believes the issue could have been fixed sooner, but was not because of the danger of working with such high voltage electricity.

“We could have got Olmsted back running sooner, but management decided if Baker did the repairs without it being energized,” Tart said.

Chambers said the goal is to get the situation fixed with as little disruption as possible.

“When we get it fixed we will probably transfer the building later in the day (so) when (or) if we have any issues it won’t affect so many people,” Chambers said. “We will have to power the building down, and then power the building back up.”

Oberembt, Tart and Chambers all agree that creating as small of an inconvenience is a major goal and that few people were affected because there were so few people on campus.

“This kind of thing happens every other day in some part of town. It just happened to happen at Drake,” Chambers said. “There was no classroom time lost, no time lost and no damage to anything expect to the electrical facility.”


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