Ben Atkinson Building
Description: 802 Alumni Drive
In 1960, with new buildings being built on campus and an antiquated power plant, the university needed a bigger and more modern plant. President William Ransom Wood considered building a nuclear reactor to supply power, but the board of regents decided on a $3.5 million coal-fired generating plant to be built next to the railroad tracks below College Hill where trains could feed coal directly into the plant.
The Ben J. Atkinson Building includes a central heating and power plant that supplies all the electricity, water and heat for the university. Built in 1963 and operating since January 1964, it has a capacity of 100,000 pounds of steam and 3,700 kilowatts per hour. George Greenamyer's sculpture 16 Revolving Flying Machines, purchased through Alaska's One Percent for Art Program, is mounted on the plant's steam vents.
The cluster of buildings, designed by Ralph R. Stefano and Associates, includes pump houses, boiler rooms, water treatment facilities, the chiller house, storage spaces and a coal lab. The university, which has its own well, built a reservoir in 1961, its first water treatment plant in 1966 and a second water treatment plant in 1981.
In December 1998, a tube ruptured in one of the original 50,000-pound coal-fired boilers. The entire plant filled with steam. Windows broke, power failed and safety systems didn’t activate, and the control systems had to be shut down. The university lost all power and heat generation for 12 hours. Golden Valley Electric Association helped the university get alternate boilers running and return heat and power to campus.
Construction to upgrade the facility began in June 2002. The project added a new egress tower and control room on the north side of the power plant.In 2006, three new chillers were installed to replace the 30-year-old central chiller and distribution system. In 2009 the campus high voltage electrical distribution system was upgraded and the central switchboard from the power plant was relocated to a new building. New utlidors were constructed adjacent to the powerplant to contain future electrical cables and connect the new switchboard to existing utilidors.
Ben J. Atkinson graduated from the University of Alaska in 1947 with a bachelor degree in civil engineering. He was the first director of the university's Office of Physical Plant and Campus Planning and played a key role in planning new facilities during a period of rapid growth. The plant, considered one of the most modern and efficient in the country when it was built, is one of the major buildings erected during his service to the university. He died in 1966, and the heating plant was dedicated to his memory on May 19, 1968.
“Dedication of the Ben J. Atkinson Building,” Special Events 1966-72 (A12.D5), UAF Alaska and Polar Regions Archives, Facilities Services Web page, 2002-3 Construction Overview; Statewide Web site, “ The Cornerstone on College Hill,” by Terrence Cole; UAF Master Plan 1991; University Relations files; UAF Facilities Services Web page; Facilities Services Division of Design and Construction 2006 construction overview.