The Collegian
Wednesday, February 01, 2023

How do we get our hot water, heating and air conditioning?

The university's Steam Plant, also referred to as the power plant, operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year so the university community has enough steam to generate hot water, heat and air conditioning in all of the buildings on campus.

I spoke with George Souleret, university engineer, and took a tour of the steam plant to see what the facilities workers do to take care of the plant. Here is what I learned: They work 12-hour shifts to maintain the boilers, as well as answer calls and respond to problems people have.

Souleret described the steam plant as a giant teakettle. The boilers are operated using coal, oil and natural gas and produce up to 100 lbs. of pressure to push steam through the pipes that run through tunnels throughout campus.

The hot water produced in the dorms by the steam is subsidized with semi- and instantaneous water heaters; some of which work well and some of which don't, Souleret said. University Facilities workers have been using different water heaters to see which work best and they will replace those that have not been functioning properly. He said the heaters used in South Court and Keller Hall had worked well, but the brand used in Freeman Hall had not been working properly and would most likely be replaced.

People in Facilities can't know whether something is malfunctioning, so Souleret said it was imperative for people to call in when something did not work. The Facilities department has a system that records when people call, what their complaints were and how they were serviced. He said they used those records to determine which buildings needed to be serviced and which products seemed to be working.

People can submit a work order request online at, or call (804) 289-8600. Facilities can't know that something isn't working if no one calls, and Souleret said he would rather have three work orders for one thing than none at all.

I also learned there are several tunnels that run under the university to take the steam to the various buildings. The tunnels contain pipes, electrical wire and various other things. People, mostly students, have been known to go in those tunnels from time to time, but recently there hasn't been much of a problem with that, Souleret said.

The teams that go in to check and maintain the tunnels have found beer cans and other signs of life inside the tunnels, despite the fact that they are very small and dangerous. Souleret said he didn't like going in the tunnels and didn't know why others would volunteer to. After seeing the tunnels, I think I agree.

There are several myths about the tunnels that Souleret said he wanted to correct. Here are the facts: No. 1. The tunnels do not go under the lake. Although that would be awesome, it's not true. No. 2. There is only about 1.10 miles of tunnel. No. 3. They can reach 120 degrees in the summer, almost making them ovens.

The not-so-secret tunnels and the steam plant are two of those things students seem not to understand or overlook, but I encourage you to think about where all that hot water in your dorm room comes from and to let Facilities know when it runs cold. There are about 190 Facilities employees who work extremely hard to make sure we have a beautiful, clean and functioning campus and they deserve much more applause and thanks than we can give them.

And with that, University of Richmond, I bid you adieu. Your new news editor is Tanveer Ahmed. Keep an eye out for his version of the Rice Report to learn more about all those things on campus we never really get to see.

Contact staff writer Stephanie Rice at

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