DSHS takes first steps toward utilizing geothermal energy in new forensic hospital

Guided by an executive order requiring facilities built under the Western State Hospital Master Plan be net zero capable for energy use, DSHS Office of Capital Programs staff and Clark Construction took some early steps late last month in achieving that goal while preparing for construction of the new forensic hospital.

A pair of 8-inch-wide, 250-feet-deep exploratory geothermal test wells were drilled into the grassy fields west of Building 10 by Clark Construction crews.

The sonic drill that dug the wells uses a series of vibrations to drive a barrel into the earth also allowed crews to unearth soil samples pulled out of multiple casings for further research.

A sonic drill drives a metal casing into the earth in the field west of Building 10 on the campus of Western State Hospital in Lakewood. Crews dug a pair of holes March 28 that will be used to explore future geothermal engineering at the new forensic hospital. (Photo by Tyler Hemstreet)

While the field was devoid of buried utility lines, the one thing crews were concerned about during the drilling process was the possibility that old irrigation tunnels were still present, said Mike Noonan, assistant superintendent of the project for Clark.

Facilities built under the campus’ master plan are required to comply with the state’s Net Zero Policy. It recommends that DSHS further explore strategies to migrate from gas-fired steam for thermal conditioning and factor this transition into projections of gas and electrical demand.

“Meeting this goal for the new forensic hospital will require investment in sources of thermal and electrical energy from non-fossil fuel sources,” said Tyler Sloan, DSHS capital projects manager.

Geothermal energy is heat energy from the earth. Geothermal resources are reservoirs of hot water that exist or are human made at varying temperatures and depths below the earth’s surface. Wells, ranging from a few feet to several miles deep, can be drilled into underground reservoirs to tap steam and very hot water that can be brought to the surface for use in a variety of applications, including electricity generation, direct use, and heating and cooling.

The casings also provided a way for crews to acquire soil samples.

For this project, a geothermal heat pump will circulate water through pipes buried in the ground, or submerged in a water body, to heat and cool patients’ rooms as well as the entire hospital and administration buildings through the HVAC system.

Geothermal energy supplies clean, renewable power around the clock, emits little or no greenhouse gases, and takes a very small environmental footprint to develop. It also offers a low-carbon way to heat and cool buildings.

Contractors from Affiliated Engineers, Inc., a company that specializes in planning and design of geothermal heating and cooling systems, visited Western last week to begin conductivity testing of the two test wells and gather more data about the capacity of the soil to transfer heat.

Plans for the new forensic hospital include the drilling and utilization of about 300 geothermal wells — all located at the site of what was once the hospital’s baseball field. Construction of the new hospital is slated to be complete between 2027 and 2029.

(By Tyler Hemstreet)

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