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A photo looking towards the northeast corner of the power plant with a school bus turning into the parking lot

Safety and Accessibility at the T.B. Simon Power Plant


April 23, 2015

The T.B. Simon Power Plant at Michigan State University is full of machinery and hard-working employees. While the machines can be dangerous, people are constantly monitoring them and helping to create a safe environment for employees and visitors alike.

Nate Verhanovitz, a performance engineer in the Infrastructure Planning and Facilities (IPF) Power and Water department, explains that everybody in the power plant has to be as safe as possible, no matter if the person is a student, a faculty member or an employee at the plant.

He revealed that the power plant is also very accessible, not just for visitors but also for employees. It’s designed to allow for all sorts of things with wheels to be moved about; therefore people who require wheelchairs for mobility have the ability to move around the plant as well. While there is a set of stairs between the main offices and the body of the power plant, a large ramp on the side of the building can be used as an accessible entrance, and two spacious elevators provide access to every floor within the plant.

An photo looking down the ramp that leads into the power plant.

Pat McKay, an environmental science instructor at Lansing Community College, put these elevators to good use this semester, as she brought students from her Biology 120 classes to visit the T.B. Simon Power Plant. The class focuses on ecosystem sustainability, including renewable energy, chemical cycling and biodiversity.

“The course is comprised of students who have traveled the world to those who have never been in a stream or walked in a forest.  Most students begin the course not understanding the natural world in which we live, where their water and power (combined heat and electricity) comes from nor that these resources are limited and effect the balance in our natural environment,” said McKay. “T.B Simon Power Plant, and the robust discussion, visual aids and education provided by Nate Verhanovitz and Ron Rushing make power generation and the impact of carbon use salient to students.”

Some of her students required the use of accessible pathways and hearing aids during the visit. With the high level of noise in the power plant, ear plugs are plentiful, and visitors are given headphones with which to hear their microphoned guides. Power plant visitors might not recognize safety dangers in the plant, so it’s up to their guide to effectively communicate with them. When guiding visitors, Verhanovitz points out even small hazards such as cords on the floor, as well as more major dangers such as super-heated machinery.

Other safety hazards in the plant include work happening overhead and grated floors that are open to lower levels. People wearing heels or shoes with loose laces could easily trip on these floors, or someone could look down and suddenly become dizzy or nauseous. The power plant provides a pre-visit information sheet about possible issues such as high heat, high noise and the grated flooring, so that visitors can be alert to their own needs and possible medical issues, and communicate with their guide if a problem arises.

A photo looking down a set of grated stairs to levels below. A pair of boots are seen in the photo to provide depth perception.

When asked about why MSU strives to provide educational trips to its power plant, Verhanovitz said, “We love to open up the plant whenever we can to interested people. We want to make sure everybody has an opportunity.”

In fact, the idea of giving everyone an opportunity to learn and engage falls perfectly in line with two of MSU’s core values, inclusiveness and connectivity. By working closely with others in and outside of the university community, the power plant gains insight into new perspectives and is able to start a dialogue with younger generations about energy issues facing our campus and our nation that they may be the ones to tackle.

In keeping with IPF’s commitment to keep MSU running 24/7/365, Bob Ellerhorst, director of IPF Utilities, says, “We work to promote awareness of changing technologies, exhibit a willingness to take some risks to make gains and avoid making compromises on reliability of service.” After all, the third MSU core value is quality.

MSU Infrastructure Planning and Facilities builds and maintains the physical environment for Michigan State University’s education, research and outreach missions, and directs the university’s sustainability initiatives and long-term infrastructure planning goals. The unit’s experienced team of professionals keeps MSU running 24/7/365, delivering an immense menu of services and providing expert analysis for university objectives. Call (517) 353-1760 for emergency service.