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Glessner House Gets Groundbreaking Upgrade

In early spring, Historecycle donned a hardhat and steel-toed shoes and returned to Chicago’s Glessner House to witness the crowning touches of the geothermal well drilling on site. Joggers in the adjacent Chicago Women’s Park, where trees were just turning green, were oblivious to another type of greening happening next door. In Glessner House’s courtyard, on the other side of the brick wall that separates the park from the building, four holes were being bored through bedrock 500 feet deep. Into each borehole would be threaded a segment of tubing, and through this tubing would run fluid that brings heat into and out of the museum. For the first time, the whole 1887 landmark will be heated, cooled, and dehumidified by a modern, energy-saving HVAC system that taps into the temperature of the earth.

These four boreholes, drilled by Advanced Geothermal Plumbing & Heating over a period of two weeks, complement two others installed in 2015 (see our earlier blog posts here, here, and here), for a grand total of six. Beneath the courtyard, where summer weddings and concerts are held, the octopus-like pipes will connect through the museum’s foundation to gleaming new ductwork, pumps, and other equipment to be set up indoors. Air conditioners, no longer needed since the system provides cool underground air, will be extricated from the windows. The final “ribbon-cutting” for the completed geothermal system is slated for this coming winter.

The process has not been without hiccups, however. Funding the upgrade was a challenge, for example. The original plan was to install the wells in multiple phases over several years. In the end, though, only two phases were required, thanks to a recent $350,000 Sustaining Cultural Heritage Collections award from the National Endowment for the Humanities. (Phase I was spurred on by a $100,000 donation from a museum docent.) Another challenge arose before Phase II when the original drilling contractor, which used Rygan tubing in 2015 (Phase I), went out of business. The second company, Advanced Geothermal, was hired for Phase II, but because that company­­ used conventional tubing, the design team went back to the drawing board to make sure the two tubing types were compatible.

Finally, before digging at Glessner House could begin, there were two more hoops to jump through: the Cook County Department of Public Health and the llinois State Historic Preservation Office had to give their blessing to the plans. After all, it is a historic structure in the prestigious Prairie Avenue District.

This exciting project is recapped here:


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