CMA keeps its cool after air conditioning unit has “catastrophic failure”

Savana Dunning

A loud boom sounded in Building A of the Jesse H. Jones Communication Center, known as the CMA, on Thursday, Sept. 27. The blades on the cool air fan of the CMA’s air conditioning unit had dislodged, becoming damaged and unusable.

Without a working fan, all nine stories of the more than 111,000-square-foot building would have gone without air conditioning for four months while the part is repaired. However, on Sept. 30 students received an email saying classes would be held the next day, thanks to a campus-wide facilities effort to solve the problem.

CMA building manager Herb Woerndell said the CMA was cool enough to maintain a safe
temperature on Sept. 28, but they needed a solution for classes to continue the following Monday.

“We have over 1,000 students in this building and at least 200 faculty and staff in that building,” Woerndell said. “There was no way we could adequately move that many classes with that many students in that short period of time, so it was very important that we maintained cooling to have classes on Monday.”

On Sept. 28, UT’s Zone 2 engineers removed the 6-foot tall damaged fan and started working on a solution. Although the air conditioner’s cooling capabilities were still functional, there was no way to move the air without a fan. The engineers re-routed the air conditioning system so air flow would still be cooled by the air conditioning unit, but moved through the adjacent heater fan.

“We were taking advantage of the fact that we still had an operational fan,” maintenance engineer Brian Stokes said. “Normally that fan would pull air across the heating coils and through the heating duct, but we just re-routed that air and blocked off the heating coils to force the air in the path we wanted it to go.” 

Meanwhile, facilities staff from UT’s Zone 4 started rolling 25 portable spot coolers, large air conditioning boxes with extending tubes that blow cold air, into classrooms and server rooms to prevent computers from overheating. 

“We got (coolers) over here immediately because our temporary fix was going to be good enough to keep the place cool, but we were still lacking the proper airflow,” Stokes said. “Those were to get more circulation into the rooms and provide more cooling.”

As the spot coolers were being rolled in, the team also found two large portable air conditioning units at Sid Richardson Hall which were just finished being used. Through negotiations with facilities staff at Sid Richardson Hall and Parking and Transportation, the team was able to get the two units set up in the parking garage underneath the CMA. By Oct. 1, the new portable units were hooked up and the CMA’s heating unit was reconfigured to its normal position.

“I am extremely grateful for the excellent work performed by UT’s facilities professionals to help us avert a crisis in Moody College when our air conditioning unit failed,” said Jay Bernhardt, dean of the Moody College of Communication, in a statement. “I also thank our outstanding faculty, staff and students for their patience while a permanent repair is being made.”