Y2K minus one
January 1, 2000 · 12:45 a.m. · Physical
|Power plant manager Bill Viecelli
collecting ash from the coal-fired boilers.
On New Years Eve Y2K
minus one, UMass was a virtual ghost town, with only an occasional police
cruiser traversing its darkened and eerily empty streets. Among the few
buildings where anyone seemed to be at home, physical plant that
hunky complex sitting just west of the Textbook Annex and including the
campus smokestacks was lit with an especially welcoming glow.
You really accept it as part of the
job, said physical plant director Earl Smith about spending New
Years Eve at work. You know theres sometimes you just
have to be here. At a statewide forum last summer, said Smith, citizens
airing Y2K fears were saying, Something is going to happen,
make us feel good. Its our job to run the systems so everyone
will feel good.
It was definitely a feel-good scene at plant,
as habituès call the complex, at about 11:40 p.m. on New Years
Eve. Nearly fifty workers bustled about in the tool and lock shops, at
the telephones, around the central computers. Teams were ready to head
out at the stroke of midnight and check every building to ensure that
all was in order. Workers were walking past with heaping plates of chicken
wings and sugar-covered cookies. A policeman dropped by for a snack and
confirmed that, so far, all was quiet.
By 11:50, Smith and eight or so others were
assembled in the front office, watching television coverage of the festivities
in Times Square and in the closer-to-home metropolis of downtown Northampton.
What if the ball doesnt drop,
will that be Y2K? a grinning Smith inquired.
These people lead big lives,
remarked someone else, observing the jubilant faces beaming in from New
Happy New Year, we made it,
exclaimed Smith as the ball in fact dropped and the year rolled over to
2000. Then the team scattered for on-the-spot checks. For Smith, it was
over to the massive power plant next door, with its decades-old industrial
works right out of the pages of Jules Verne. The atmosphere is sooty and
hot in the power plant and a loud hum fills the air. As steam tunnel foreman
Jeff Price asserts, You clearly expect to see Captain Nemo out back.
Some 98 percent of campus buildings are heated with steam produced in
the plant and carried to its destinations through twenty-six miles of
Here, as elsewhere on campus, Smith and
his crew were glad to discover that as little that was untoward occurred
at UMass as occurred anywhere else in the world. (Although there were
late-breaking surprises: Smith discovered on December 30 that emissions
monitors on the smokestacks werent Y2K-compliant.) That everything
went smoothly was no big surprise to Smith, a twenty-year veteran of the
Navy Civil Engineering Corps, or for any of these front-line soldiers
in the army of workers who keep the 354 big and small buildings of the
campus illuminated, heated, and connected by telephone and computer. For
them, this New Years Eve was the culmination of more than a year-and-a-half
worth of preparations.
The momentous midnight past, Bill Viecelli,
power plant manager, led Smith on a sort of valedictory tour of the boilers.
This night, as always, neither the old equipment nor the workers had let
the campus down. Weve never had a problem where we cant
take care of the campus, Viecelli said proudly. Then he shook hands
with his workers, in recognition of a New Year and of a job well done.