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Geothermal initiative begins at General Theological Seminary
Project is largest in New York City


GTS photo
The General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church in New York City.   (GTS photo)

[Episcopal News Service]  The General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church is converting its present heating-cooling system, which uses fossil fuel, to an energy-efficient geothermal system.  Drilling for a series of standing column wells, integral to the new system, will begin this Fall.  Years in the planning stages, construction on the project begins in the wake of the Episcopal Church's General Convention, which passed significant "green" legislation encouraging the church at every level to reduce "energy use through conservation and increased efficiency, and by replacing consumption of fossil fuels with energy from renewable resources" toward the reduction of global warming (resolutions B002 and C018).

Thanks to the new system, which won the approval of Community Board 4 on July 26, the Seminary will reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by more than 1,400 tons a year. Any need for roof-level cooling towers will be permanently eliminated, helping to preserve the architectural integrity of the campus-an entire city block of landmarked Gothic Revival buildings and serene, gardenlike open space set in the heart of the bustling Chelsea neighborhood. 

"As stewards of both our Chelsea Square campus and of the glorious but fragile Earth we all share, we are investing in this geothermal system to benefit the Seminary, our neighbors, and our world for generations to come," commented the Very Rev. Ward B. Ewing, Dean and President. "This project ensures that a campus built for the ages will continue to serve through the ages. And it reminds us that we must work as hard to preserve the environment as we do to save our Seminary's historic buildings." 

Geothermal heat pump systems make use of the constant temperature of the earth below the surface level. During the winter months, when the subsurface is warmer than the air above ground, the system transfers heat upward.  During summer months, when the air is warmer than the subsurface, the heat is transferred down.  Geothermal systems are inexpensive to operate and maintain, require no exposed outdoor equipment, and make a minimal impact on the environment. Because of the savings afforded by the new system, construction costs will be offset in just nine years-a very short period for an institution chartered by General Convention in 1817. From the tenth year forward, the Seminary will enjoy a net savings in its operating budget.

According to Maureen Burnley, Executive Vice President for Finance and Operations, "The Seminary's geothermal initiative is an integral part of our overall plan of improving the physical fabric of our campus while reducing operating costs. It is also very much in keeping with the kind of stewardship recommended by our General Convention. We believe GTS is helping to lead the way in the use of renewable energy sources."

Project architect Yetsuh Frank, RA, LEED AP, of Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners LLP, explained that the Seminary is planning to build a "field" of 22 standing column wells installed beneath the sidewalks urrounding the campus. These wells will take advantage of Manhattan's geology by tapping the ground water that flows through the seams and fractures of the island's bedrock. A steel casing runs from the surface down to the bedrock. From there, an unlined bore hole, eight inches in diameter, is drilled to a depth of 1,500 feet. (The height of the Empire State Building, to the top of its lightning rod, is 1,453 feet.) Ground water, which maintains a temperature of about 55 degrees Fahrenheit year-round, is pumped out of the bore hole into a cellar mechanical room, where a heat-pump system either transfers heat to it during the warm months or pulls heat from it in cold weather. The water is then returned to the standing wells, where it loses any acquired heat to the ground water and to the cold stone bore holes.

The Seminary's system will provide 850 tons of cooling to 260,000 square feet of buildings. Beyer Blinder Belle estimates will create the single largest geothermal well field in the New York City area. 

Since 1999, the Seminary has invested some $9 million in restoring its landmark Chelsea Square campus. In summer 2005, the Seminary began renovating three of its historic buildings to house the new Desmond Tutu Education Center. Designed by Beyer Blinder Belle, the Center will create a Tenth Avenue entrance to the campus for the first time in the Seminary's long history, helping to open Chelsea Square to the city while contributing a gardenlike green space to the Avenue.