Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A tale of two Umass buildings

Tilson Farm Steam Plant (also called "Paradis Boiler Plant" located near Orchard Hill)

The new state of the art co-generation plant on Mullins Way
, using low sulphur diesel fuel, natural gas and effluent (gray water) from the Amherst Waste water Plant located nearby produces both heat and electricity.
Original coal fired steam plant built in the late 1940s; slated to be replaced in 1974 by Tilson Farm.

In fact, the old warhorse coal plant was under pressure from the EPA to shut down in the early 1970s so perhaps that urgency pushed Umass officials to become reckless in bringing on-line the new Tilson Farm plant too early.
The coal fired steam plant, continued operation until about two years ago.

View old power plant in a larger map
The difference between the new $138 million Umass co-generation heating/electrical plant on Mullins Way and the old $9 million Tilson Farm steam plant is as stark and simple as a light switch: one switched on and it worked, the other turned on and did not.

The Ward Commission, charged with investigating public building contracts during the 1970s, concluded that the Tilson Farm steam plant fiasco was an all too typical byproduct of the greed and corruption ingrained in the system of awarding state government building contracts. Essentially the foxes had free rein in the henhouse with little to no oversight.

According to an abstract of the Ward Commission published in the Boston Globe (1/3/1981):

"The $9 million steam power plant is a white elephant - now standing idle because the 1.5-mile pipeline designed to carry steam to the campus contains irreparable defects caused by backward operation during startup. After $96,492 paid to contractors produced neither a solution of the problem nor even identification of its cause, workers renovated an old plant at a cost of over $2 million. Meanwhile, attempts to "mothball" the new plant resulted in corrosion of valves and pipes."

The "backward operation" probably seemed like a clever cost saving idea at the time: pulling steam into the plant from the older one located 1.5 miles away to heat it during the first winter of operation.

Attorney General Francis Bellotti eventually won a $970,000 lawsuit against the building designers but by then the $9.3 million steam plant was abandoned. A "Building Condition Report" done by staff at the office of Administration and Finance dated 5/26/09 estimates $5 million in demolition costs for the 19,000 square foot plant, although no such action is imminent.

A recent inside tour shows the derelict four story building to be remarkably well preserved:

Perhaps a lasting legacy of the powerless powerplant is reflected in the shiny exterior of the new co-generation plant built 35 years later. As State Senator Stan Rosenberg, President Pro Tem of the Massachusetts Senate (D-Amherst) points out: state officials had learned a hard, expensive lesson.


Anonymous said...

They learned a powerful lesson: Don't trust private industry to do the right thing. They'll cheat you every time. And they did, and still do. Just look at BP.

LarryK4 said...

Yeah, the profit motive has its downside.

Anonymous said...

Larry, what's you take on the latest from S Hadley?

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
LarryK4 said...

The public officials there continue to show themselves as Old School, Good-Old-Boys way of doing things.

Violating the First Amendment rights of citizens, meeting behind closed doors (although I assume the room was not smoke filled) to extend Gus's contract, etc.

It's only going to get worse--way worse--when the trials start.

Anonymous said...

Kathryn Mazur, Amherst schools' HR head and Vice Chair of the S Hadley school committee (and brains behind the illegal/fascist use of the S Hadley police department to deny people their first amendment right to free speech) was once what? Gus Sayer's personal assistant?


"Kathryn Mazur, formerly assistant to the superintendent, has taken on the full time responsibility of
coordinating and directing Human Resources."

Well, well welllll, surprise surprise...

Incubated in Amherst, infecting S Hadley.

Not qualified, incompetent, and now criminal?

Nice one Amherst. Can't you do better than this?

Anonymous said...

Chop chop Kelley, enough of the power plant crap:

AMHERST - Citizen volunteers who met twice a week for four months in an attempt to decode the school budget have disbanded, with a long list of unanswered questions.

The panel has recommended that the School Committee immediately create a new citizen group to continue the work.

The Budget Advisory Committee collected questions about school spending from the public and sought information from administrators.

The task was to have a "just the facts" approach and to "translate (the information) into something usable," said Chairwoman Alison Donta-Venman.

"I didn't feel our job was done," she told the School Committee Tuesday.

While thanking the nine volunteers for their efforts, several committee members said their energy, expertise and independence were valuable and that the effort should continue.

"This has been a great committee that will be hard to replicate," said School Committee member Steve Rivkin. "You're free to quit, but your charge is not complete."

For example, the group was unable to specify the reasons why Amherst's per-pupil expenditures are $4,000 a year higher than Northampton's.

Interim Superintendent Maria Geryk said this question is still under analysis and there will be a report soon.

The panel was also unable to say why the per-pupil administrative costs don't decrease as the size of the student population increases.

It doesn't know the estimated savings of creating a K-12 school district, though a different committee is expected to give the School Committee a report on this next month.

No answers

There were no answers on combining services between the schools and Town Hall, or getting more money out of local campuses, such as to pay the cost of children who live in tax-exempt housing and attend local schools.

"How do we restart the engine on this machine?" said School Committee member Rick Hood. Rivkin compared the citizen panel to the Congressional Budget Office, which provides nonpartisan advice on federal economic proposals.

Farshid Hajir, chairman of the Regional School Committee, said there will be a discussion of goals in about a month, and cautioned about "adding a burden to the administration."

School Committee member Catherine Sanderson said it would be too bad to lose the momentum the panel has established, and creation of a new one should be on the agenda for the June 8 meeting.

LarryK4 said...

Yeah, like you're my favorite demographic.

Anonymous said...

"Farshid Hajir, chairman of the Regional School Committee, said there will be a discussion of goals in about a month, and cautioned about "adding a burden to the administration."

Wellll, wellll, welll, I wonder who could be so overburdened as to not be able to provide the tax-payers of Amherst with the information they deserve, pay DEARLY for and OWN???

My, she ~does~ have a lot on her plate...

Yes indeed.

p.s. Wake up Kelley. Nap time is over.

LarryK4 said...

I believe the local bricks-and-mortar media still publish "Letters to the Editor." do have to sign them with a real God given name.

Anonymous said...

Hey LK,
Not in your best interest to disregard an anon, especially with inside info...just keep your ears open. Got to wonder why are YOU not questioning the fact that the committee did not get ANY answers over a four month period?????
Some of us don't drink the town water ya know and our eyes and ears are open.

Ed said...

Larry, the new power plant is a bigger scandal than the old one - and the difference is this -- $138M today would have been $31M back in 1974 - and Tilson Farm was $7M.

What is not being said is how truly expensive this plant is and how badly over budget is was -- and what is not being told is how the university has doubled the internal utility charges to academic departments.

What they are doing is funding both this plant and the new police station out of student fee money. Hence instead of being able to hire another professor, the academic department ships its money over to pay for this.

The solution: all the GenEds are going to be 4 credits next fall. No more contact hours, no more instruction, we just get to charge kids more money for the exact same class. And they don't mind because the number of credits needed to graduate remains the same, so they just pay more for fewer classes and still graduate.

LarryK4 said...

Yeah it is currently about $20 million over budget and maybe two years late in coming on line. But at least it works.

And it also, unlike Tilson Farm steam plant, produces electricity--perhaps as much as 80% of the University's needs.

Anonymous said...

Geology professor Rutherford Platt said in a lecture some years ago that he might have been the only person to ever derive any good from the Tilson Farm steam plant. He studies the geological history of this area and was really interested in exactly what rocks were 100 feet below that site...

Matt said...

Larry, any insight on the 'Paradis' name? I've been interested in the history of this plant for a long time and that's the one question I still have.

LarryK4 said...

Hey Matt,
No, I never figured that out (saw your blog post from last year and I did ask about it to a few sources but nobody had any idea).

If you ever figure it out, let me know.