The Men Who Control the Weather

“If we do our job correctly, it’s invisible,” said Mark Jacobsen as his radio crackled in the background of his office. As director of facilities management at California Lutheran University, Jacobsen spends the day busily leading a crew of technicians and project managers that oversee the technical side of the university.

Jacobsen said his team monitors everything from electricity problems to carpentry to pest control, ensuring that the campus is kept safe, functional and comfortable. As part of this team, two senior technicians are responsible for the scheduling, care and maintenance of centralized heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems that control the temperature of almost every room on campus.

Each HVAC system is controlled online through a program called Astra. Before the start of every semester, one of the technicians goes through the upcoming class and event schedule and inputs the expected time each room will be in use. The Astra spreadsheets include 26 pages individually listing each controlled room and its anticipated schedule. Each room is set to maintain, within one degree, a temperature no cooler than 68 degrees Fahrenheit and no warmer than 74 degrees while occupied.

The temperature range is designed to keep everyone comfortable while also minimizing strain on the system and maximizing energy efficiency. As part of the university’s Sustainability Committee, Jacobsen said he makes a point not to waste power cooling or heating rooms that are not scheduled to be in use.

Rashelle Rew is a junior who has lived on campus since her first semester at Cal Lutheran. She has lived in Pederson, Trinity and North halls and has found differences in the heating and cooling systems between each dorm. Now, having just moved into Mogen Hall, she said the temperature seems more predictable.

“I lived in Trinity during the summer and you could change the temperature manually, but I still always needed a fan because the AC didn’t work all that great,” Rew said.

Not every room has the ability to control the temperature. However, those that do have a small gray thermostat, which Jacobsen said allows for some flexibility within the preset temperature range. Occupants are able to control the system within a five-degree variation for their comfort, but overall control lies in the Astra system.

Rew said she feels that the temperature in the rooms of each building is usually consistent, but there can be drastic differences between each building. She said she felt the biggest temperature fluctuations between the Swenson Center and the Soiland Humanities buildings. Rew said that on several occasions, her professors have conducted class outside of the Swenson Center because it gets too hot inside, but she makes sure to always bring a sweater on days she has class at the Soiland Humanities Center because the air conditioning never seems to turn off.

The most frequent calls to facilities regarding work orders, is regarding the HVAC system with concerns about the temperature being too hot or too cold. While occasionally a motor burns out or an air compressor needs maintenance, most of the problems stem from human error.

Jacobsen said that often, when a technician responds to a work order about the heating and air conditioning, they find that the room was either not scheduled to be used or that the occupants have propped open doors and windows in an attempt to cool off. Jacobsen said he understands that when it gets warm, people want to open a door and let fresh air in. However, it may cause the system to function improperly or even shut off entirely.

Katherine Lippert