Army Engineers Upgrade Heating System at Remote Air Force Base in Alaska > District of Alaska > News


You don’t often think about how buildings are heated on military installations in Alaska, that is, until the system fails. At King Salmon Air Force Base, a steam plant has provided heating since the Cold War. But, over the years, the task of keeping it operational has become more and more difficult.

“The existing steam plant is difficult to maintain and find replacement parts,” said Mike McNalley, project manager for the US Army Corps of Engineers – Alaska District. “It’s also very inefficient due to the age of the system.”

The need for an upgrade to this critical infrastructure led the 611th Air Force Squadron to seek a new way to heat its facilities and meet mission needs at the remote airfield in Southwest Alaska. With winter temperatures well below zero in this southwestern region of the state, a reliable heat source is essential to keep base operations running smoothly.

USACE Alaska District stepped in and designed a long-term solution that dramatically improves the utility’s reliability, profitability, and energy efficiency. The organization awarded a $3 million contract to execute the project in November 2020.

“The steam plant provided heat to the majority of the King Salmon site,” said Captain Adam Teston, of 611 Civil Engineer Squadron. “But due to its age, the heat loop had significant leaks that were causing the site to lose hundreds, if not thousands, of gallons of water daily. By completing this project, we were able to isolate the heat loop leaks and save the Air Force money and water.

By installing a modern heating system for each building, the squadron can provide essential heat to the next generation of Airmen and contractors assigned to the facility.

“The goal is to install individual heating systems in each building, so that the central steam boiler can be taken out of service in the future,” said Captain Justin Dermond, project engineer for the district of the ‘Alaska.

When a facility is built from scratch, the master plan typically designs a centralized source to produce steam and hot water that is distributed to buildings through a network of underground pipes. The facility produces heat by burning fossil fuels in large boilers.

Decades later, when it no longer makes sense to keep obsolete technology in service, replacing the entire steam plant is not always an option. This was the case at King Salmon, so the USACE and the Air Force looked for more realistic ways to heat its buildings.

In 2021, the district disconnected four buildings from the centralized system and equipped each with an individual heating system. These modifications were made to a dormitory, gymnasium, communications building and accommodation for the existing steam power plant.

“Critical installations have been identified for stand-alone heating systems,” Teston said. “Now that these facilities have the necessary heating systems, the Air Force can decommission the steam plant and begin scheduling non-critical facility demolition projects. This will help us reduce our footprint and save significant costs at King Salmon. »

However, the antiquated steam plant system will remain operational until all affected buildings in the facility are upgraded and enabled for independent heating.

“We have to leave it online until other buildings are converted,” Dermond said. “We added 3 inches of spray foam insulation and a new roof as a temporary fix until the factory became obsolete and the building could be demolished.”

While the scope of work for adding boilers to the buildings is not overly complex, the isolated location of the base posed some logistical challenges during the construction phase of the project.

“The weather is never good,” said Dermond. “With the wind and rain, we needed a good weather window to schedule a contractor to fly in and spray the insulation. We definitely had to align the stars for that to happen.

Located between Bristol Bay and Katmai National Park and Preserve, King Salmon is just over an hour’s flight from Anchorage.

“One thing you don’t think about is what happens when you don’t have a coin handy,” Dermond said. “You can’t run to the hardware store down the street – you have to wait for it to ship from Anchorage.”

This means that something as simple as a brass fitting can take a week to reach the project team, changing the work that can happen on site in the meantime. The timing of the decentralization project was another important consideration.

“We had to either fly or haul all the equipment and supplies to the site,” McNalley said. “We also planned for the work to take place mainly in the summer, so that they would not have to provide heat to the buildings under construction.”

The remote air station has seen multiple iterations of use since its inception in the early 1950s, serving as a diversion airfield and long-range radar site, among other things. Now the facility is used for training and can accommodate up to 300 airmen. One of the dormitories listed to receive the new boilers also served as housing for the construction team.

“My journey for this project was on the other side of my wall,” Dermond said. “While we were working on installing the new elements, I also stayed at the facility.”

Another structure on the renovation list was a composite building that houses everything from a gym to a movie theater to the national park headquarters for the Katmai National Park and Preserve.

“We ended up demoing a storage room and turning it into a mechanical space,” Dermond said.

In doing so, they improved the heating system without increasing the footprint of the building.

The realization of this set of projects, from the concept to the installation of the last electrical circuit breaker, took about three years.

“It’s always exciting for me to see a project I started come to an end,” McNalley said. “Often we don’t think about the small projects that need to be done and the maintenance that needs to be done to keep a facility running.”

Although the team can be satisfied with the completion of the initial construction phase, there is still work to be done. The USACE will continue to partner with the 611th to add new heating units to two other air station buildings in an effort to decommission the aging steam plant over the next few years.


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