6:30 p.m.

One Day Apprentice: Mark Evans

By Hannah Pietrick

Mark Evans is the last chief operator of Carleton’s steam plant. For 32 years, Evans has worked long hours in the lower levels of the facilities building to ensure that the campus has safe heat and hot water. This spring, the college will reach a significant milestone in its Utility Master Plan by transitioning to all geothermal heating and cooling. With this change, much of the steam plant machinery, piping, and equipment will be removed, and the 24/7 oversight by engineers like Evans will no longer be necessary.

Evans, who began his work at the college in 1989, says that his career in the Navy prepared him for life as a steam plant operator. “Working weekends and nights and holidays—that’s what I’ve been doing since I was 18 years old, and I’m 61 now,” he says.

Many 12-hour shifts lasted through the night, and sometimes beyond. He recalls the Halloween blizzard of 1991: “I did a 24-hour shift because nobody could get here. I rode my snowmobile from Faribault and I actually got here faster than I normally would because there was nobody on the road!”

Because Minnesota law requires that an operator remain within 500 feet of the plant at all times, the shifts can sometimes be both lonely and mundane. “You get used to it over the years,” says Evans. “You’re just waiting for something to happen and hoping that it doesn’t. You try and keep your mind occupied doing things.” For Evans, this has involved reading books, developing close friendships with his colleagues, and dealing with occasional unexpected guests, including skunks, possums, raccoons, and stray dogs, as well as another notorious group—streakers.

“Reunion weekend was a big one for streakers,” Evans says with a laugh. “That’s settled down now. I haven’t seen a streaker in about 20 years.”

As the steam plant approaches its final days, Evans is nearing the end of his Carleton career and looking forward to spending more time fishing and in warmer climates.

“It’s sad to see it go,” he says of the plant, “but it’s making way for something different, something new, something good.”

  • 7:54 a.m.Mark Evans, chief operator of the Carleton steam plant, arrives for a typical shift by 8 a.m. and leaves at 4 p.m., when the evening operator’s shift begins. “Sometimes, if someone calls in sick, you have to stay through the next shift,” he says. “You can’t just leave. It’s against state law for the plant to be unattended.”Hannah Pietrick

  • 8:20 a.m.At the beginning of each shift, Evans conducts a series of checks that he repeats throughout the day.Hannah Pietrick

  • 8:25 a.m.The checks include taking readings of the gas, steam, and water consumption of the boilers to ensure they are working efficiently.Hannah Pietrick

  • 8:28 a.m.Evans checks the water level in the boiler. Changes in levels could indicate a potential problem with the equipment, such as a leak or a stuck valve.Hannah Pietrick

  • 8:35 a.m.Evans monitors chemical levels in both the boiler and the domestic water supply to make sure they are within a safe range. “It’s a lot of water chemistry,” Evans says. “We have to make sure the water going into the boilers and coming back is within limits. We keep an eye on the chlorine, the hardness, and the phosphates in the water.” If levels are too high it can indicate wasted chemicals. If the levels are too low it means the water isn’t being properly treated.Hannah Pietrick

  • 8:40 a.m.Because Evans and the other operators must always stay within 500 feet of the boilers, they have little interaction with the rest of the Carleton community, except what they glimpse through the windows. “I don’t even know what other buildings look like inside,” Evans says.Hannah Pietrick

  • 11:30 a.m.Evans monitors the energy management system, which tracks the temperatures and flow of water in the wells and in the geothermal system. If the system raises an alarm, Evans—who is unable to leave his post—would need to call maintenance to investigate.Hannah Pietrick

  • 2:00 p.m.It’s imperative that Evans can be reached at all times during his shift, so he is never without his radio.Hannah Pietrick

  • 6:25 p.m.Evans’s office has a small kitchen. He brings with him anything he might need during a shift because the steam plant engineer “can’t just walk out the door,” he says.Hannah Pietrick

  • 6:30 p.m.Hannah Pietrick

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