September 12, 2023 | Matt Kucinski

Women's soccer playing game on new turf field with construction equipment in the background.
Calvin's soccer teams have played their first games on the new turf Zuidema soccer field. Construction continues on other elements of phase one.

Over the next couple of years, Calvin’s outdoor athletic fields are getting major upgrades. On the northwest side of campus, the men’s and women’s soccer teams both won their initial contests on the new turf Zuidema soccer field. On the east side of campus a new track will be completed within weeks. And this is just the beginning.

But perhaps of equal importance to future stadiums, locker rooms, and training facilities is what’s not in plain sight, what’s hidden underground. The fields below the fields.

A deeply rooted commitment

“If this project is successful, I think it will allow us to move our carbon neutrality delivery date earlier, which aligns with President Boer’s desires,” said Matt Heun, professor of engineering at Calvin.

The project Heun references is the installation of two small geothermal fields—one to the northwest of the future soccer stadium and one just east of the future football building, “which ironically is slated to be underneath the future football field,” said Dirk Pruis, the CFO at Calvin.

Faculty and student advisors

“I didn’t dream this up,” said Pruis referring to the possibility of adding geothermal to Calvin’s campus, “others have been thinking about this for a while.”

Thinking about caring for creation and sustainability? Yes. Calvin University faculty and staff have produced scholarship and pushed the university to lean into this commitment for nearly half a century.

Thinking about geothermal solutions? “The student project for my Engineering 333 class last fall was focused on how to decarbonize campus heating,” said Heun. “They looked at lots of options. The one they landed on was geothermal.”

Four students (three men, one woman) in suit jackets sit as they await their presentations.
In fall 2022, engineering students presented strategies to President Boer for helping the university move up its timeline significantly for achieving the President’s Climate Commitment.

The client for that class project was President Boer. Pruis, who serves on the president’s cabinet, acknowledged the students’ work “helped inform our thinking around this.”

And it’s not the first time that student work helped inform sustainability initiatives on campus. Look no further than the Bunker Interpretive Center, where a group of senior engineers’ design project involved fitting that building with solar panels. That building is LEED-certified.

Piloting geothermal

While every building on campus outside the Bunker Interpretive Center is heated and cooled with a loop of hot and cold water, the university is “not putting these new athletic buildings on that loop,” according to Pruis.

The administration’s decision is encouraging to Calvin faculty, like Heun, who share in a deep commitment to caring for creation.

“I’m thrilled that the decision was made to go geothermal for the new buildings. They will be a great test case for us,” said Heun. “As the electricity supply gets decarbonized, they will emit less and less CO2 as we heat and cool them. That’s such a good, forward-thinking step for the university.”

While the plans are to install the two new geothermal fields, university leaders are still awaiting results from a 500-foot deep test bore that was done a couple of weeks ago before moving forward. Pruis says he “anticipates those results will determine that we can move forward with these plans.”

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