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CSU implements new technology to heat and cool Moby Arena

Colorado State University is making another huge step forward in sustainability and energy efficiency by implementing new geo-exchange technology to heat and cool Moby Arena. 

The geo-exchange technology will reside below the intramural fields and require a large scale drilling operation that will take place this summer, said Carol Dollard, an energy engineer and co-chair of the Presidential Sustainability Commission. 


Dollard said when you dig 5 feet below the soil line, the earth stays at a constant 50 degrees. In geo-exchange heating, the heat from the earth is absorbed into water inside pipes, allowing the heating or cooling of a building without using electricity to generate the heat. 

“All we are doing is exchanging heat from the ground,” Dollard said. “You are either absorbing heat from the ground in the wintertime when you want to warm the building or dumping heat into the ground when you are trying to cool the building.” 

The drilling is currently scheduled to take place the day after graduation and be finished late August just as students arrive back on campus, Dollard said.

lagoon construction site
Construction equipment sits inside The Lagoon on Colorado State University, Feb. 2. In 2020, construction is scheduled to begin underneath the intramural fields on the largest geothermal project in Colorado. (Megan McGregor | The Collegian)

Tony Flores, the project manager overseeing the design and construction of the project, said the first three fields to drill will be fields four, five and six. Flores said a lot of the piping and work on Moby will be done before graduation. 

There will be a total of 400 wells, each 550 feet deep. Once the wells are drilled, they will be filled with over 80 miles of pipe, Dollard said. The pipes will then be filled with water containing 25% glycol to stop it from freezing, creating a closed circuit. 

The first phase of the project is already in motion with the abatement of asbestos in Moby Arena, Dollard said. 

“A lot has to change inside the building because these components are 50 years old,” Dollard said. 

This project will be accomplished with a control maintenance grant from the state that was intended to renew the 50-year-old HVAC in Moby, Dollard said 

Replacing the HVAC in Moby and adding a new boiler would require adding a new addition to Moby to house these components, upping the cost of the project, Dollard said.


Instead of adding a new addition to Moby, this was seen as an opportunity to not only modernize Moby but implement the more efficient geo-exchange system, Dollard said. 

Although going with the geo-exchange system is more expensive up front, it has a payback period of six to eight years, meaning it will be paying for itself after that, Dollard said.

We hope everybody’s excited about moving into a new phase of more efficient greener energy at CSU.-Carol Dollard, energy engineer and co-chair of the presidential sustainability commission

The total price of this project is $20 million. However, the geo-exchange system alone is a fraction of the entire price of this project, about $4 million, Dollard said. The bulk of the expense comes from renewing Moby and preparing it to be paired with the geo-exchange field.

“Beneficial electrification,” meaning the electrification of key building components, is what Dollard said is the next step for Moby and eventually meeting the 2030 goal of 100% clean electricity at CSU. 

Others have successfully implemented the geo-exchange. Ball State University in Indiana has implemented geo-exchange into its entire campus, and Poudre School District has implemented geo-exchange fields within its operation center and has plans to build it into a new high school, Dollard said.

“When we are done, it will be one of the largest (geo-exchange complexes) west of the Mississippi,” Dollard said. “We hope everybody’s excited about moving into a new phase of more efficient, greener energy at CSU.” 

The project, if successful in Moby Arena, will most likely be adopted on the east-most intramural fields to heat and cool the new residence hall, Meridian Village, Flores said.

As of now, there are only three buildings west of Meridian Avenue that are running on steam power, and with Moby converting, CSU will be pushed closer to its goal of 100% green electricity, Flores said.

There should be no concerns for the health of the field and the impact on intramural sports in the fall, Flores said. 

“When we’re all said and done, you won’t notice anything underneath the fields,” Flores said. 

Tim Kemp, CSU’s capital construction and engineering staff manager, his staff and project managers work closely with the contractors to ensure that everything is up to CSU standards and regulations.

“This project relies on our engineering staff for technical expertise, especially with the new geo-exchange,” Kemp said.

The project will use six drill rigs from a few different firms. Kemp said contractors enter a competitive bidding process with the state of Colorado and CSU itself.

“We were looking for two things: experience and the best financial value,” Kemp said, ensuring that best in class resources are going to this project.  

Kemp meets with the project management team every two weeks and works closely with all actors involved to make sure that everything is up to CSU standards. 

“We are thankful for all of our partners and this cumulative effort of doing the right thing for the University and getting a truly innovative addition to campus,” Kemp said.

With current testing, each drill rig can complete one to 1 1/2 holes per day. With six rigs going at a constant rate over the summer, the project should be done at the beginning of fall semester 2020, according to Kemp.

Isaiah Dennings can be reached at or on Twitter @isaiah_dennings

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