Campus power project incomplete after 15 years

Jackson French

The office of Planning, Design and Construction’s ongoing project of renovating and upgrading WKU’s electrical system reached a milestone over the summer.

After 15 years of electrical work, the substation located on Mimosa Alley that once powered part of the campus is no longer in use and has been disconnected and decommissioned.

Planning, Design and Construction director Bryan Russell said Cherry Hall, Garrett Conference Center and Potter Hall, which were upgraded to the newer power system in August, were the last buildings to be powered by the substation.

Ben Johnson, assistant director of Planning, Design and Construction has been working with Bowling Green Municipal Utilities on the project. He said the Mimosa substation powered parts of WKU’s campus on an outdated system.

“It is also worth noting that the old distribution level system that we had, which was 4,160 volts, was very prevalent back in the 40s, 50s and 60s, is no longer a municipal utilities standard for distribution,” he said, adding that 12,470 volts is the new standard.

Johnson said WKU has been working to upgrade the campus to a 12,470-volt system since 1997.

“As of this last high voltage upgrade phase that we did over the summer, that actually removed the last buildings that were on circuits originating at that substation [on Mimosa Alley],” Johnson said.

He said Bowling Green Municipal Utilities has been intending to take the substation down once WKU no longer needs it.

“At that point in time, I essentially said, ‘Guys, we’re not getting your piece of equipment anymore so do with it what you will,” Johnson said.

Jeff White, electric division manager at BGMU, said there is no set date for the destruction of the Mimosa substation but expects it to occur some time next year.

He said WKU is the last customer on BGMU’s grid to still use the 4,160-volt system, adding that the rest of the utilities company’s customers switched more than 20 years ago.

He said BGMU will likely try to sell the substation’s transformer and switchgear once it has been dismantled.

“We have no use for the transformer anymore so we’ll just, we’ll put it up on probably an auction site and see if there’s an interested buyer,” he said.

Johnson said maintaining an outdated system can be difficult.

“What you find as new standards occur, then the availability for not only new equipment but also parts and maintenance devices, and parts for these older distribution systems become unavailable from parts suppliers,” Johnson said. “There’s not a demand for them so people don’t make them anymore, which specifically was the case with Mimosa Substation.”

He said the scarcity of replacement parts was one of the main factors that led WKU to switch to a 12,470-volt system.

“BGMU notified the university about 15 years ago that they were having difficulty in sourcing repair parts for that substation, which did play into our discussions with them to move to the new distribution system,” Johnson said.

Despite the decommissioning of the Mimosa substation, Johnson said part of WKU is still powered by the old electrical system.

A Planning, Design and Construction map of the school shows that many of the residence halls, along with the Preston Center, the Fine Arts Center and Grise Hall are still powered by the old distribution system.

Johnson said a substation on Forrest Drive powers the parts of the school on the new power system, adding that BGMU plans to decommission and dismantle it as well once it is no longer in use by WKU.