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Grant Hall goes geothermal with new language center

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Architectural renderings of the Sandi Port Errant Language and Culture Learning Center
Architectural drawings of plans for the new Sandi Port Errant Center in Grant Hall include learning centers and study spaces.

When Grant Hall on the east side of campus is transformed into the Sandi Port Errant Language and Culture Learning Center in fall 2007, it will be a state-of-the-art learning facility — and a model of energy efficiency.

The 17,000 square-foot, three-story center — funded in part by Chicago entreprenur and philanthropist Sidney Port in memory of Port’s late daughter — will feature formal and informal study spaces, a writing and tutoring center, classrooms designed with “smart technologies” and access to live television broadcasts of news and cultural programming from around the world.

With a grant of almost $154,000 from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, the facility will also have a cost-efficient, environmentally friendly geothermal system to heat and cool the building, keeping the temperature consistently comfortable year-round.

“It’s not much different than your home system where you can set the thermostat, switching from heating to cooling any time you want,” said Joseph Muscarella, vice chancellor for administrative services.

Currently, the building gets its cooling or heating from a central facility. The flow temperature is set by the season, eliminating the option of cooling the building on a warm winter day, or turning up the heat on a cold day in July.

The new geothermal, closed-loop system will act like a heat pump, using relatively constant earth temperatures as a source from which the water flowing through the building’s heating/cooling system can draw or reject heat, as required.

When spring semester ends, a well field will be drilled some 100 feet below ground on a small lawn patch beside Grant, Douglas and Lincoln halls. The well will eventually provide the geothermal base for heating and air conditioning in Douglas and Lincoln after subsequent renovations.

Some studies show geothermal system energy costs are half that of conventional systems. Muscarella’s office will study and document the savings after the new Sandi Port Errant facility opens.

“By doing this project, we’re matching a heating and cooling technology with a complete renovation of a building,” said Muscarella.

“We have a lot of synergy here, where the internal learning environment is going to be greatly improved by having a new exterior window system that will let in a tremendous amount of natural light. The geothermal system will allow relatively ‘perfect’ comfort year-round.”

Muscarella said the renovated building will be “new” without actually having to build a new building. He predicts such modernization projects will become common at UIC, given the lack of funding needed to construct all-new replacement buildings.

“We have to look at ways to take what we’ve got and bring it into the 21st century,” he said.

“The technology of teaching has changed tremendously since the 1960s. When these buildings went up, professors used slide projectors and chalk boards. Nobody had computers.

“We hope to upgrade these buildings so professors can teach and students can learn in a more comfortable environment.”

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