Makeover Warms Historic Campus

Central heating replaced by efficient boilers and water heaters.

The campus of one of the oldest colleges in Minnesota is now the home of Pillsbury College Prep and Camp Pillsbury. The camp offers programs in in areas such as circus arts, magic, theater, dance, music, visual and fine arts, and equestrian.

Following several years of neglect, one of the oldest colleges in Minnesota found new life as a summer camp for youth. Owatonna, MN-based Pillsbury Baptist Bible College opened its doors to students in 1877. After closing in 2008, the campus sat vacant until Vonda White, an entrepreneur from Florida, purchased the college. As campus facilities were inspected prior to purchase, it was apparent that the old central-heating system would require a substantial overhaul.

“We change the world one child at a time,” said White. “The impact that we can have on these children is very positive. We transform the lives of kids, and they’ll transform the world.”

The campus is now home to Pillsbury College Prep and Camp Pillsbury, a year-round boarding school and camp for kids from all over the world, ages 6 to 17. The camp offers programs such as circus arts, magic, theater, dance, music, visual and fine arts, and extreme sports. During the summer months, an average of 250 children attend Camp Pillsbury, more than half coming from beyond the Midwest including countries such as France, Brazil, The Netherlands, and Spain.

The initial phase of the renovation focused on only five of the campus’ buildings–the ones essential for the camp’s inaugural year. Remaining buildings are to be renovated during later phases. Pillsbury managers reached out to Faribault, MN-based Faribo Plumbing & Heating, asking that they assess the need for plumbing, heating, and mechanical system upgrades for the once-vacant buildings.

“Pillsbury once had a huge, overworked steam system to heat all buildings on the property,” said Skip Schwartz, owner of Faribo Plumbing & Heating. “When we first fired it up, steam leaked everywhere; the system was completely shot.”

The Pillsbury campus has been known under various names over the years, including Pillsbury Military Academy, Pillsbury Academy, Minnesota Academy, and Pillsbury Baptist Bible College.

Geysers in the lawn

An aerial photo would have been revealing. The extensive, underground steam-delivery tunnel system leaked like a sieve. During winter months, the grass above the tunnels was moist and green. Steam trickled upward from the soil as if from subterranean geysers.

“We eliminated the steam system, all of the old piping for it, and the boilers as well,” explained Schwartz. “But we decided to continue using the old steam tunnels to carry city water from the plant to each of the buildings to meet domestic water needs.”

“From the beginning, we recommended taking care of each building’s heat individually, rather than having one giant heating plan for all of the buildings on campus,” added Schwartz. “Not only are the systems customizable for each building, but they’re running at much higher efficiencies as well.”

“Now, every building has its own, dedicated mechanical system,” explained T.J. Dvorak, Faribo Plumbing project manager. “We installed two Laars NeoTherms (Laars Heating Systems, Rochester, NH) in each mechanical room, varying in sizes. We went with two boilers in each location because of the school’s stated desire for full redundancy.”

Replacing the old steam system as the source of heat for the campus are 95% efficient Laars NeoTherm natural gas-fired condensing boilers. The systems are direct-vented with sealed combustion, offering a 5-to-1 turndown. Three of the buildings received two 285,000-BTU units. Kelly Hall, used for administrative purposes, received two 150,000-Btu boilers. Clearwater Hall, which has all of the student dorms, now has two 300,000-Btu units.

“All of the boilers have interior and exterior sensors to monitor and control temperatures,” explained Schwartz. “These boilers come with the controls already built in; we needed only to add the sensors.”

“What makes this job unique is that campus is recognized by the historical society,” Schwartz continued. “The preservation committee sees to it that as little as possible of the buildings’ original façade and authentic characteristics remain unaltered.”

“It was relatively simple to tie the new equipment in with the existing pipe,” said Dvorak. “The existing cast-iron radiators were still in great working order.”

“There are flow controls on everything, and the systems’ pumps have built-in pressure differentials. The NeoTherm control panels make it easy to run the pumps,” added Kelly Michel, owner at St. Paul, MN-based Michel Sales, the local rep firm for Laars and Bradford White.

Taco 0011 pumps (Taco Comfort Systems, Cranston, RI) were installed with the boilers. Ideal for high-efficiency jobs like Camp Pillsbury, the 0011’s are also maintenance free, which was a key selling point.

Laars gas-fired condensing NeoTherm boilers of varying sizes were installed in each building to replace the campus’s central steam-heating system.

Mechanical recipe

The NeoTherms currently serve solely as the source of heat, with the potential to be a domestic hot water source down the road.

Bradford White, Ambler, PA, commercial eF water heaters were also installed to heat domestic water. Most buildings pair the two NeoTherms with two eF’s–both a 100- and 199-gal. water heater, including the kitchen.

“We really enjoyed this project,” said Schwartz. “When you take the oldest college in the state of Minnesota that was shut down for several years and add somebody willing and able to revive it, it makes for a really cool project.”

Laars Heating Systems
Bradford White
Faribo Plumbing & Heating
Michel Sales
Camp Pillsbury
Pillsbury College Prep

Comments are closed.