Staff profile: The men who keep us cool

Staff profile: The men who keep us cool

W hen the sweat starts to trickle and it’s muggy, just remember—as you turn the AC down—someone’s always watching, monitoring your comfort in every office and classroom across campus. 

They are men of the chill. 

Unseen and rarely thought about, they are unsung heroes who work quietly behind the scenes, braving rooftops with their toolbelts, crawling in hot spaces, answering the call and responding to complaints. 

We deal with professors and office people all the time. We might lose a pump or there’s no air flow, but we try to keep everybody comfortable the best we can.
– Tim Brooks, HVAC supervisor

“We deal with professors and office people all the time. We might lose a pump or there’s no air flow, but we try to keep everybody comfortable the best we can,” said Tim Brooks, HVAC (Heat Ventilation and Air Conditioning) supervisor in facilities management. 

Keith Sloan monitors air conditioning on campus.
Keith Sloan monitors air conditioning on campus.
Along with HVAC-III DDC (Direct Digital Control) Mechanic Keith Sloan and a crew of six, Brooks oversees Main and West Campuses. He and Sloan like to joke around. They call their work station “the war room” and “command central,” where air conditioning is controlled campuswide.

Computer diagrams of interconnecting pipes monitor the temperature in every building and almost every office and classroom—showing them who’s hot and who’s not. 

Graphs and charts identify what’s running or breaking down. Tubes and wires pour from enormous containers. Giant fans whirl. There’s steam and vents and levers and blinking lights. Retired supervisor George Mayor once said it looked like Starship Enterprise on the old TV series Star Trek. 

Inside Georgia College's chiller plant.
Inside Georgia College's chiller plant.

It’s an ear-deafening workspace with four 600-ton chiller tanks. The 9,000 sq. ft. warehouse near Miller Court chills water to 42 degrees and churns more than 55,600 gallons around campus. Water’s piped underground to air handlers in every building, which absorb sticky humidity from the air. Warmed water comes gushing back to be recycled. Enormous cooling towers remove the heat. Then, water’s pumped over Freon coils for rechilling, and the process repeats over and over again. 

Every classroom receives eight air changes per hour. 

Tim Brooks reads data on water output.
Tim Brooks reads data on water output.
Throughout it all, Brooks and Sloan are constantly observing. The entire HVAC crew works weekend and night shifts in emergencies and during residence hall move-ins. Even when they’re not at work, the duo can log into the computer program from home. Sloan does that “quite often,” Brooks said, “always making sure campus is taken care of. We try our best to keep on top of it.”

It takes continuous training—seminars and webinars—to stay up-to-date. Soon, the plant will have a new computer system and additional chiller to deal with add-ons at Beeson, Terrell and the Integrated Science Complex. Every day is a new challenge. 

Chilled water pump.
Chilled water pump.
Sloan’s been at Georgia College 18 years and Brooks 13. Both were electricians with kaolin mine backgrounds, and both of their wives are school teachers. The two men laugh and say they leave the physical fix-it jobs for younger “go-getters” on their crew.

With a team member retiring soon, their office will be reduced to seven. The job is hectic, so the group relies on one another. They kid around and, sometimes, someone brings in donuts or biscuits with gravy. They hunt and fish for relaxation. 

It’s important to know how to decompress, Brooks said, because chill is a “big deal.”

If Georgia’s Old Governor’s Mansion lost air conditioning its historic paintings, rugs and furnishings would be jeopardized. Temperature at Special Collections in Ina Dillard Russell Library is carefully regulated too, so humidity doesn’t damage precious papers and other items. The Natural History Museum at Herty Hall has taxidermy animals and fossils that need protecting, as well. Directors of these areas have Brooks on “speed dial” in case of emergencies. 

We’re always thinking about everybody on campus. We really are. There’s always something to be monitored. Always something to keep on top of.
– Brooks
COVID-19 created new problems to solve. With changing class sizes, Brooks and Sloan are constantly reevaluating air flow and adjusting room temperatures. Areas with more people heat up quickly. 

During the pandemic, HVAC mechanics used “foggers”—backpacks with biodegradable sprayers—to kill bacteria, mold, mildew and viruses. They ordered MERV 13 filters for academic buildings to catch microscopic particles from the air. It seems every week brings a new regulation or recommendation.

“We’re always thinking about everybody on campus. We really are,” Brooks said. “There’s always something to be monitored. Always something to keep on top of.”

In addition, facilities is also concerned with reducing electricity costs. During critically hot months, Brooks and Sloan override temperature controls from their computer terminals with a click of a button. They do it in minimal increments, so it’s hardly noticed. The savings, however, piles up. In 2019, the division saved 35 percent in energy costs.

In May 2019, Georgia Power Co. gave Georgia College a $120,454 rebate check, because of the university’s new demand-flow initiative. It produced a $65,000 savings within six months of completing the chiller plant’s optimization project. 

It’s a lot to oversee. Priceless artifacts. People’s comfort and wellbeing. Saving money. But Brooks and Sloan do it well.

Unless you’re feeling a little hot under the collar, however, you might never notice.