What's smoking?

By Patrick Davis

Tall, green and smoking, it catches your eye. You can’t miss it when you’re on or near the Fitchburg State University campus. What does it do and why is it smoking? Yes, the green towering smoke stack jetting out from the middle of the campus landscape actually has a purpose. Joe LuBuono, Fitchburg State University’s Director of Operations & Facilities, stated, “The smoke stack is part of the university’s Dupont Building. The Dupont Building, formerly known as the Power Plant, houses the university’s steam plant. The exhaust coming out of the stack is the result of burning oil, but mostly natural gas, used to create high pressure steam.”

According to LuBuono, “The Dupont Building and smoke stack used to be at the edge of campus. University expansion has given it a more central location making it a campus landmark.” The campus is easily identified when you see the “Fitchburg green” color and the university’s name on the stack. The stack was repainted four years ago when Fitchburg State College became Fitchburg State University.

Mr. LuBuono reported that the smoke stack was rebuilt in the early 1970’s, as it needed to be taller than the surrounding houses on the hill. This was required because the power plant burns oil for fuel. The new stack replaced the old one, which was a shorter brick chimney.  The replacement stack is a double walled steel stack that rises 250 feet above a 6-foot concrete base on which it sits. Information found on the Fitchburg State University website provides the following additional information: “The stack needs to be this tall to comply with the Department of Environmental Protection Regulations; which states the exhaust opening can be no lower than 25 feet above the closest landmark (the hill)”.

The “small” marker lights at the top are 3 feet tall and 1 foot wide. The lights are required for safety by the Federal Aviation Administration for safety because the stack is so tall. Servicing the lights requires them to be brought up and down by pulleys. There is a ladder on the inside of the stack that brings you to the top. Mr. LuBuono was asked if the university has ever had a problem with graffiti or a problem with students trying to climb the smoke stack. He responded, “Not to my knowledge as the stack has always been behind a locked fence.”

Mr. LuBuono confirmed that the power plant runs 24/7 and 365 days a year. The only exception is when there is an inspection, which requires a full shutdown. The plant has to be inspected every five years. The Dupont Power Plant operates the university’s steam generation system. Mr. LuBuono said, “The plant provides steam heat and domestic hot water to the main campus utilizing tunnels and direct burial piping.” Mr. LuBuono provided written information called the Building Data Narrative Sheet for the Dupont Facilities and Power Plant Building. It reads, “The Dupont Steam Plant supplies steam/condensate to all of the Main Campus buildings on campus, and to the Aubuchon Towers, Russell Towers, Herlihy, and Townhouse #5 Residence Halls via underground (and some above-ground) steam and condensate lines. All of the steam-supplied buildings use the steam for heating hot water supply.”

The next time you look at the Fitchburg State University smoke stack, remember there is more to it than meets the eye. It is not just a campus landmark. It is a reminder of how much the campus has grown and is part of a system that delivers hot water and warmth to many dorms and buildings on campus.