Beyond the storm: NPS opens Ellis Island facilities

Last edited 09/05/2019
Contact Information

Contact: John Piltzecker, Superintendent,, (646) 356-2101

NPS replaces main utilities at Ellis Island to withstand future storms

The National Park Service has completed the replacement of the major primary heat, air conditioning, and electric infrastructure at Ellis Island with all connection to be done by the end of 2015.  Before Hurricane Sandy, most of the primary utility and mechanical systems were located in basements beneath the historic structures at Ellis Island, or at ground level.  When Ellis Island was over washed by storm surge waters, the basements were completely filled with brackish water and the main climate control systems, and electrical switch gear were completely flooded.  The boilers, located at ground level, were flooded to the 4 to 5 foot level.  None of the utility or mechanical systems were operable after the storm and damage to most of the equipment was complete, necessitating replacement rather than repairs.  Instead of replacement in kind in the same location, the National Park Service undertook an extensive analysis to determine where the replacement equipment could be placed while still maintaining the historic and cultural appearance of Ellis Island.  The solution was to elevate as many of the primary systems   as possible so that they were at least three feet higher in elevation above current FEMA flood levels. To accomplish this, the Power House building was retrofitted by removing all ground level systems and constructing a platform inside of the building 17 feet above sea level, so that newly installed systems would be well above potential future flood levels.  Reconfiguration of basement level air handling ducts would have required detrimental changes to the historic buildings and landscapes be made, so the decision was made to replace the ductwork and air handlers in their same locations in the basement.  However, the air handlers and ducts were made more resilient by designing the systems with external components that can be replaced in the event of another flood.  For example, the ductwork is to be externally insulated instead of internally insulated as the previous ducts were.  This would allow the new ductwork to be cleaned in place instead of needing removal and would not require the units to be shut down while this removal is taking place The intent of the design and construction method is to make the utility and mechanical systems as resilient to future storms as practicable, and reduce the time and materials needed to get the systems fully operational after a storm event.  All critical systems are connected to an emergency generator that was also elevated against future storms, so that if the local utility provider is unable to restore electrical service in a timely manner the island can continue to operate without primary electrical service. From outward appearances to the visitor, Ellis Island looks the same, but the internal working systems will withstand another storm.

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