The Oberlin Review
<< Front page News October 14, 2005

Union Street gas line installation delayed

College representatives and contractors agree: Optimistically speaking, permanent heating and hot water could be available on Union Street just in time for Fall Break weekend parties.

Residents, like College junior Alanna MacCord, whose hot water at 102 Union has been erratic at best since the semester started, may be pleased to hear that construction on the main gas line could begin as early as next week.

Eric McMillion, associate director of facilities operations for the College, said that while the temporary heating system currently in place is “more than adequate,” the original design for a permanent boiler system will have a greater capacity for domestic water use. These boilers will “make and recover hot water faster” and also be more efficient, and the main line is necessary for them to operate.

McMillion cited legal complications in explaining why the gas line has been held up.

“The main point of contention is the liability of [the contractors] installing and maintaining the gas line on College property,” McMillion said.

Columbia Gas, the company subcontracting for natural gas transportation on Union, confirmed that negotiations on legal documents have prevented construction from starting, but Ray Frank, a representative from Columbia’s communications department, seemed confident that they shouldn’t be a problem much longer.

“We are very close to reaching a final agreement,” Frank said. “The indication I have is that we’re just days away.”

Union Street’s gas line, Frank said, “really isn’t an out-of-the-ordinary project. It’s similar to the way we do all of our projects.”

The main line, which Frank said would consist of “pretty close to 400 feet of three-inch [diameter] main on College property,” ought to take less than a week to complete once construction managers have the go-ahead to begin.

McMillion said the installation of the line would take at least five days. Frank suggested that the part of it that is actually on College property would probably take fewer than two days, noting that “there’s some work we’re going to do out in the street right-of-way in conjunction with this project” that might take more time.

Although a gas line existed on Union Street prior to the construction of the College housing, it was very close to the surface. In getting construction approval from the city engineer of Oberlin, the College and its contractors had to ensure that a new, deeper line would be installed.

“The city engineer’s concern was that we should get [the line] lower down to protect it,” McMillion said. “It was right below the pavement. It wasn’t an ideal situation.”

McMillion also mentioned that Union Street had smaller lines feeding the residential houses that were demolished in preparation for the College project, but these lines were not large enough to provide service to the large boilers necessary for the amount of housing going up.

Both McMillion’s and Frank’s comments on the issue of the gas line allude to the intricate nature of contracting for construction between two parties — in this case, Oberlin College and Columbia Gas of Ohio, which in fact subcontracts to smaller companies to carry out individual parts of the project. The particular delay in constructing the gas line was apparently a result of unsigned legal documents.

“We were working on language for a legal document that is required,” Frank said.

Construction workers “are ready to begin this project, once they get the final word that all legal documents have been signed by both parties,” yet communications between attorneys persist.

Frank said that just as the College has to impose limitations on construction to protect its rights and properties, “we likewise need to protect our operations.

“There are considerations on both sides that have to be weighed,” he concluded. “I’m sure in a matter of days those mutual considerations will be resolved.”


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