While not as picturesque as the Kangamangus Highway Nadeau biked on his Harley Davidson with his wife, David Nadeau’s office window offers a pleasant, palliative view of Peacock Pond. This view is a stark contrast with the bottom floor of the Boiler Plant, where noisy boilers and colorful pipes pierce through the walls. Though few students know his name, David, as Wheaton’s chief engineer, is essential to everyday life at Wheaton College.
The noise in his office is from the Boiler Plant’s four boilers, which burn more gas in forty minutes than a household burns in four weeks. Around 1,200 pounds of steam are pumped out of the boiler room every hour. Thin red lines on a large, fading yellow map outside Nadeau’s illustrate denote the pipe’s underground paths that carry heat to campus buildings. Only the smaller buildings, such as those located on Howard, do not receive heat from the Boiler Plant.
Running the Boiler Plant is a twenty four hour endeavor, with the staff rotating the first, second, and third shifts weekly. For instance, Russell Gendron, a Fireman, was to be working the day shift with Nadeau. He, like Nadeau, has a passion for Harley Davidson motorcycles and used to work in the Navy.
Wheaton students rarely see staff like Gendron and Nadeau, yet are affected daily by their work. “Most college students don’t have a clue what it takes to run a college,” said Nadeau, who has worked Wheaton College for 12 years.
Nadeau began his career in the Navy as a ship engineer. After he returned to civilian life, Nadeau became a Second Class Fireman Apprentice, the lowest level of Power Plant Operator in Massachusetts. Eventually, Nadeau advanced to a Second Class Engineer, the rank he holds today. In addition, to being the Chief Engineer, Nadeau runs the Mechanical Trades Group which includes HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning), Plumbing, and the Waste Water Plant.
Nadeau’s career has not changed since his Navy days, as he is captain of the ship that is the Wheaton Power Plant. If the power plant were to go down, he would go down with it. At least down to court, that is. As the second class engineer, Nadeau is legally in charge of the Power Plant. If anything goes wrong, he would be liable under Massachusetts law.
The heating system was modernized in 1925. Prior to modernization of the Boiler Plant, Wheaton was powered by coal. The old coal room is now a metal fabrication room, where many state licenses of the staff are posted. Boilers used to explode all the time before such licensing was required. For instance, the Grover Shoe Factory Disaster in Brockton, Maple which killed 58 people when a boiler exploded in 1905, is located only a half an hour from Norton.
This incident inspired Massachusetts in 1908 to be the first state in the United States to publish a set of boiler laws. To this day, the Massachusetts Board of Boiler Rules meets twice a year to go over boiler related laws.
To the right of the old coal room is a room where the Boiler Plant completes water chemical testing. “It’s like testing your swimming pool,” explained Nadeau. Similar chemical testing occurs at the Waste Water Plant
“I deserve better treatment,” is written on a sticker outside of the Waste Water Plant office building, located on Fillmore Drive to the left of Haas. Roger Boltrushek is the Plant Manager. While he works under the supervision of Nadeau, he is an employee of Woodard & Curran, a private company that helps Wheaton improve its waste water operations.
Outside of the office, next to a bright yellow bump sign is an even brighter yellow fence surrounding a metal trapdoor. On the fence is sign warning of the danger in the “confined space” below. When the trapdoors are unlocked, the danger revealed is less the space itself than the putrid stench the confined space emits.
All of Wheaton’s waste water comes into this underground area [M1] where the waste water pumps are located. Tampon applicators damage to these pumps and are a frequent annoyance, to Boltrushek. “They’re plastic. They plug up the pumps. They wreak havoc on a waste water plant,” he said.
In addition to troublesome tampon applicators, Nadeau and Boltrushek also frequently pull cellphones out of the pumps. The strangest thing Nadeau has pulled out of the pumps was a dead pigeon.
The pumps pour Wheaton’s waste water into two large green tanks located in the back of the gated Waste Water Plant to the left of Haas. The tanks, which can process up to one hundred and twenty thousand gallons of waste water, look like supersized above ground swimming pools. However, the dark brown water rushing within surely would stop any potential swimmer from taking a dive.
After walking down from the tanks, Nadeau reveals the end product in a white cup containing clear water he gets from a sewer next to the tanks. “This is the water after. It’s fish swimmable,” said Nadeau.
The chief problems the Waste Water Plant encounters is during the winter is the equipment freezing. Boltrushek combats this with a myriad of computer gadgets. For instance, Boltrushek can turn on and off the pumps using his smart phone.
The Mars Center for Science and Technology contains labyrinths of mechanical rooms locked to everyone except the staff of the Mechanical Trades Group.
Mechanical Room 1100 is one of these rooms, filled with pipes and lighting and containing the acid waste tank. When science classes experiment with acidic materials, the tainted water used cannot go back to the Waste Water Plant because it will kill the anaerobic bacteria. Plumbing is involved with sterilizing water for science experiments.
In addition, Mechanical Room 1100 is the location of the small air handler, which cleans the air. Within the air handler are air filters that catch dust, bugs, and mosquitos. They are changed a couple of time of year.
In order to reach the roof where the rest of the air handlers are located, one must pass through Mechanical Room 4100. Within it is an air compressor for lab experiments and another room, Mechanical Room 4100A. This room is where the air conditioners are located.
Mechanical Room 4100A ends at the roof where the other air handlers. However, they are obscured from view by a wall at the top of the science center. “That’s just a wall to make it look pretty… so when you go by you say ‘oh look at that building.’ Well the top part of the building is just a façade,” explained Nadeau.
On the other side of the roof is a limited access viewing deck. Compared to the piercing machinery within the mechanical rooms, the deck is serenely still. On the left lie seven telescopes. The green house is to the far right of the deck. In between, Beard, Haas, the Waste Water Plant, and other residential halls loom on the horizon.
“It gives you a different perspective of the school,” said Nadeau on the peaceful spot perched above Wheaton. Like the view, the Mechanical Trades Group offers a rare perspective of Wheaton. While students usually only go to the Physical Plant to recover lost keys, the Mechanical Trades Group within it is a key yet often invisible part of the Wheaton community.