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A big change to Knoxville’s skyline is coming this month, as a 310-foot smoke stack on the UT campus will be demolished and removed.

smoke-stackThe smoke stack was built in 1965 and can be seen from many parts of downtown. It’s the last visible remnant of the university’s old coal-fired boilers, which for decades generated steam for the campus.

Providing a steady source of steam is very important to the operation of the campus. Steam is used for the production of hot water, the heating of buildings, sterilizing medical and research equipment, and cooking, among other things.

The state funded $24 million of the $25 million project. UT invested $1 million.

“We are grateful for the support from Governor Haslam and the General Assembly that has allowed us to make this important change in how we power the campus,” said Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek. “This investment in our infrastructure is a big step forward in our efforts to be a more sustainable university.”

New boilers using clean-burning natural gas were installed over the summer and are now producing steam for more than 150 buildings on the Knoxville campus and the nearby Institute of Agriculture, reducing utilities emissions by 50 percent and carbon dioxide emissions by more than two-thirds. UT stopped burning coal in March 2015, making this the first fall and winter season that the university will not use coal to generate steam.

“It’s important that we continually work to reduce air, water and land pollution from campus operations,” said Dave Irvin, associate vice chancellor for facilities services, “and to demonstrate our commitment to environmental stewardship.”

Removing the smoke stack will assist in the campus’s beautification program as well, Irvin said. Now that the 310-foot structure is no longer necessary, its absence will improve the skyline of campus and downtown Knoxville.

The switch to natural gas also will result in financial savings, Irvin said, as long-term energy trends have greatly reduced the cost of natural gas as compared to other forms of energy.

Once site preparations are finished, a hole will be opened in the base of the smoke stack. The structure will not come down at once—workers will remove the layers of bricks slowly, starting at the top. Debris will fall inside the structure and be removed through the hole. It’s expected to take forty-five days to complete the demolition.

Final steps in the project include removing the last pieces of coal-handling equipment. The project is set to finish in 2016.

Steam Plant Smoke Stack Facts:

310 feet tall

27 feet in diameter at the base of the stack

1,000 cubic yards of brick

4 million pounds of brick

Brick is 32 inches thick at the base of the stack


Brooke Krempa (734-945-9051,