Innovative System Heats Things Up in Bismarck

Bismarck, ND | March 2018 | By Randy Bina, CPRE

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Bismarck Parks and Recreation District, in Bismarck, North Dakota, was the Class IV (population 30,001 – 75,000) recipient of a 2017 NRPA Gold Medal Award.

Bismarck Parks and Recreation District (BPRD) opened the BSC Aquatic & Wellness Center (AWC) in 2010. Both the local swim club and the business community got behind a successful capital campaign to raise the necessary private funds, which BPRD augmented to create one of the state's premier aquatic facilities.

The 66,000 square foot AWC, located on the campus of Bismarck State College, has a 50-meter competition pool, diving, recreation and lap pools and a wellness center with cardio and strength equipment. The facility also has a group fitness studio, the Turtle Beach indoor playground and community/meeting rooms.

Bismarck State College students have unlimited use the AWC as part of their activity fees. The AWC is the home pool for three local high school swim teams, a club swimming and diving team with 300+ members and the University of Mary's women's swim team. With seating for over 700, the AWC has been privileged to host state and regional swimming competitions, as well as the US Paralympic Swim Trials and the Can-Am Open Swim Meet. Additionally, the AWC is home to thousands of youth swimming lessons each year, open swimming, dive-in movies, blow up water toy time, and is a training center for area law enforcement's diving and rescue teams.

So it's safe to say that this aquatic facility in the heart of North Dakota is bright, busy and provides so many opportunities. But it's not just what happens in the water that is intriguing. The AWC uses a Biomass heating system that burns woodchips as an alternative fuel to natural gas. The heat created from the woodchips heats water in the boiler that is pumped around the entire facility. This system is used to heat the pool water, the domestic water and the entire building.

The process to install a Biomass system started before the facility was built. Randy Bina, BPRD Executive Director said, "We completed a feasibility study so that we could really examine what a Biomass system could do for this facility. The study showed that a Biomass system would provide substantial savings on heating costs."

Grant funds from the North Dakota Forest Service were received to help with the costs associated with the boiler technology as well as some of the equipment that would be needed for the system; a pay loader and a trailer to transport the wood chips to the AWC.

According to Ryan Geerdes, BPRD Facilities Manager, and the person who has been the closest to the Biomass system since its installation and start-up, the whole process of the system actually starts at the Bismarck Landfill. "That's where a combination of logs and wood pallets are ground to specifications for the Biomass system. Those woodchips are hauled to the AWC where they are stored, and eventually, burned. The landfill doesn't have to bury that wood waste. We're saving all that space, and heating a building," said Geerdes.

Geerdes explains the details of the process further. The woodchips from the landfill are loaded onto a trailer that holds about 4.5 tons of chips. About four loads are needed each week in the summer months and about four loads every other day in the winter. That adds up to about 1,200-1,599 tons of woodchips each year. There is storage space on site to hold 40 tons of chips, or about four or five days' supply.

The woodchips are fed into the Biomass building by hydraulic floor scrapes. The woodchips are placed on a vibrating table where they are sized down to about two to three inches in depth. To ensure that metals, like nails from the pallet wood, do not get caught up in the system, a 2500-pound magnet at the end of the table pulls out the nails. About five gallons of metal and nails are pulled out per day, and recycled. The "clean" woodchips are augured into a stoker box and burned.

The Biomass system is controlled and automated on a touch screen, and features an alarm system, a fire suppression system and mechanical air locks. There is also a dust removal system that keeps the facility clean and reduces the risk of fire.

According to Geerdes, "There was a period of trial and error at the beginning as we worked with the chips, the boiler system and even the landfill staff on all the right specifications to get the maximum use out of the system. We control a mixture of air and woodchips to ensure that we create the most efficient heat possible."

The Biomass system runs every day of the year, minus maintenance time, provides an economical heating source and saves approximately $100,000 per year in heating costs. There is a natural gas back-up system that must be changed out should there be any problem with the Biomass system. "We're very happy with the system, the cost savings, and the fact that we're also saving space in the landfill. Even the ash from the system is recycled at the landfill. It all really fits into NRPA's pillar of conservation. Another nice by-product of the system is that it is providing an educational opportunity for our staff as well as the college students and visitors who come to see it and ask questions," said Bina.