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Steam line leaves brown strip on Ohio State’s Oval

Daniel Eddy / Lantern photographer

There is a strip of dormant brown grass on the east side of the Oval, but the root of the problem runs deeper.
A utility tunnel runs under the surface of the Oval, affecting the grass on top and leaving a distinct mark on the lawn.
The tunnel itself does not affect the grass, but the steam line housed inside the tunnel that keeps the utility lines warm causes the problem, said Lindsay Komlanc, spokeswoman for Administration and Planning in an email.
Karl Danneberger, a professor of horticulture and crop science with an area of interest in turfgrass science, said in an email that the brown turf is a warm season turfgrass, and when the steam escapes the line it warms the soil temperatures. In the summer, the soil warms to a point where a cooler season turfgrass cannot survive.
The reason the grass is brown is because once temperatures reach 50 degrees and below, the grass will go dormant, Danneberger said in the email.
Komlanc said the steam from the lines assist in keeping the buildings warm on campus.
“The steam is what goes into the buildings and is actually part of the heating system for the buildings, as well as, in some cases, domestic heated hot water,” she said.
McCracken Power Plant is the main generator that heats most the buildings on central campus, and that is why the utility system is needed, Komlanc said.
These utility lines connect most buildings between 12th and 19th avenues, she said.
In the summer, the tunnel’s effects are less visible since OSU irrigates the lawn, but in the winter, when the grass is not irrigated, it dries out, Komlanc said.
Joe Keller, a second-year in business administration, said he thinks the university should be proactive about the dormant grass instead of continuing to let it look brown.
“I definitely don’t think it looks good,” he said. “Maybe make a stone path instead of grass.”
The underground tunnel dates back more than 100 years, Komlanc said.
“We actually have a system of utility tunnels that have existed since the original Brown Power Plant was built in the late 1800s,” Komlanc said. “Not all the tunnels are from the 1800s – we have upgraded them.”
Some of the tunnels are big enough for a person to walk through since they need workers to traverse the area. The tunnels range from 10 square feet to 2 feet by 4 feet, depending on the location and date they were installed, Komlanc said.
The tunnels’ locations and details could not disclosed for security reasons, she said.
Bojana Duric, a second-year in marketing, said she thought the tunnel’s details should be disclosed to the public.
“If people are asking about it, they should know the full story,” she said.
Komlanc said that only a specialized maintenance crew that monitors and maintains the utility tunnel is authorized to enter the tunnels.

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