Pipefitters, the hidden FM team

Picture of a pipefitter welding a pipe in a tunnel  Dana Nichols grinds a fresh weld on the flange of a newly-installed valve for the supply to Wilson Library.

By Rachel LeMire

Across Facilities Management are teams of pipefitters, responsible for the safety and preservation of new and old pipes that connect campus utility systems. The teams are tasked with maintaining pipes carrying high and low pressure steam, chilled water, compressed air and more. These pipe-fitters work in each FM district and within U-Construction and Energy Management.

I recently had the opportunity to visit the steam utilities team, who are part of energy management and who work ninety feet below the surface of campus. There they repair, replace, and install high-pressure steam pipes that cross underneath campus end to end. These pipes provide the energy needed to heat, make hot water, sterilize tools, and sometimes even cool the buildings around campus. To manage these miles of pipes and infrastructure, Steam Utilities employs a supervisor, general foreman and pipefitters from both the Minneapolis and St. Paul pipefitter unions, as well as professional laborers and insulators.   

Some of the pipes in the system are up to 100 years old, requiring careful monitoring and prioritization of tasks to make sure that everything is functioning properly and safely - a job that isn’t taken lightly. All members of a team play a role in ensuring pipes are replaced when needed, working to identify and repair old pipes that could become potentially harmful.

This team and other pipe-fitting teams are an integral part of campus, working below ground to keep things running. With such a large institution, it’s easy to imagine there are a lot of pipes to keep in good condition; because their work isn’t easily visible, we often forget to recognize these hard working employees that aid the safety and function of daily life on campus.