In order for Cal Poly Pomona to meet the high-tech needs of future generations of students, the university is going old-school.
Time-tested machines and tools such as backhoes, pneumatic drills and shovels will puncture concrete and asphalt and excavate soil so contractor crews can install a state-of-the art electrical distribution network that will provide reliability and a redundancy system to prevent outages. The campus electrical distribution system is reaching the end of its lifecycle.
To accomplish this unprecedented feat, the university launched the Electrical Infrastructure Upgrade (EIU) project in late June 2020 that will accommodate technological innovations of the coming decades. Facilities Planning and Management (FPM) is overseeing every aspect of the massive project, which ensures that the electrical needs of the university will be addressed for the next 60 years while also meeting current electrical code requirements.
The impetus for the EIU project came from the California State University system’s critical infrastructure needs assessment of all 23 campuses. An antiquated and fragile electrical infrastructure at Fresno State broke down in 2012 and left that campus without power for three days. The CSU Chancellor’s Office approved funding for the $26.6 million EIU project, and ground-breaking is scheduled in mid-July. Completion of the 27-month project is expected by late 2022.
“This is one of the most expansive projects in the history of Cal Poly Pomona, but also one of the most important,” said Hope Spadora, senior associate vice president of Facilities Planning and Management. “The electrical infrastructure upgrade helps ensure that Cal Poly Pomona will be able to meet the needs of future generations of students, faculty and staff.”
When the digging phase of the project starts, parts of the campus landscape might look as if hordes of giant gophers had burrowed through the terrain. Trenches will appear in roadways, pedestrian corridors, parking lots and a long list of other digging sites. The work will stretch from the remote Swine Unit on the western edge of the campus to sites near the freeways at the eastern border.
The obstacles inherent the project will require FPM to work closely with the contractor, The Ryan Co. Inc. to ensure that disruptions are kept to a minimum. The Ryan Co., which is based in Norton, Massachusetts, specializes in electrical infrastructure construction and has a long history of working on similar projects along the West Coast.
Unlike recently completed structures such as the Student Housing Replacement project or the Student Services Building, the electrical upgrade installation will not be confined to one section of the sprawling 1,438-acre campus. Chi Kwan Fong is project manager for Facilities Design and Construction (FDC) and has been heavily involved in the planning, design and logistics for the last four years.
The cost to the university is measured in dollars. The price that students, faculty and staff are going to pay comes in the form of inconvenience. Nearly 5 miles of trenches will be excavated to exhume and replace old electrical cables, duct banks and electrical vaults. That means detours around cordoned-off work zones across the campus.
The impacted areas include sidewalks, roads, parking lots, driveways, landscaped areas and outdoor spaces. The work will affect pedestrians and could also cause traffic delays and temporary road closures.
One of the critical pieces of the upgrade project is the construction of a state-of-the-art electrical distribution facility. Medium-voltage switchgear components are at the heart of the power distribution center that will feature a three-part loop system to ensure that electricity will not be interrupted in the event one section of the loop stops working. This feature also will make it easier for campus electrical crews to service and maintain the system.
The new electrical switchgear facility will be built adjacent to the Darlene May Gymnasium and is expected to take nine months to complete. To save time, trenching and the replacement of electrical duct banks and existing components across the campus would occur at some sites while the switchgear facility is being constructed.
The last phases of the project will involve shutting down the old electrical grid and bringing the new system online. This would require power to be switched off while crews make the new connection. In buildings that contain equipment critical to research, portable generators will be brought in to provide power. The electrical tie-in plan also calls for a campus-wide power shutdown to test and start up the new system.
“The Electrical Infrastructure Upgrade project will bring Cal Poly Pomona’s electrical system into the 21st century,” said Aravind Batra, the principal at P2S Inc., the electrical engineering consulting firm that designed the upgraded network. “The state of the art system will also ensure enhanced reliability and redundancy, and minimize loss of power.”
Digging Up Information
The research and planning for the massive project started in earnest during a late-spring heat wave in 2017. Using detailed utility maps, electrical engineers, the lead electrician for CPP, a landscape designer, architect, civil engineer, campus construction inspectors and the EIU project manager meticulously traced the routes of the new electrical infrastructure during walks across the campus that lasted several hours.
Engineers from P2S took detailed notes of the obstacles along the routes and the potential problems they could pose. For example, digging up the asphalt to install new electrical vaults and cables along University Drive, which cuts through the heart of the campus, would involve shutting down one lane of the road.
P2S has worked with Cal Poly Pomona since the inception of the project and has experience within the CSU system. The engineering firm also designed the updated electrical distribution system that was installed at Fresno State. Coincidently, The Ryan Co. also was the construction contractor for Fresno State’s infrastructure upgrade project.
Before any work begins, Newsbreak alerts from Facilities and social media posts will be sent to the campus community to help ease disruptions in getting to classrooms or offices. Construction alerts also will be posted on The Compass website.
Facilities Planning and Management has already started holding town hall-style meetings with campus administrators, deans, and building users to introduce the project and discuss potential impacts to the campus. In the latter stage of the project, a campus-wide power shutdown would be required to tie together all the electrical upgrades. The needs of building occupants and users will be addressed prior to any electrical shutdown.
“This project has many logistical challenges,” said Spadora. “But once the project is completed, the university will have a modern system that will last for many years to come.”