Ever Wondered What’s Underneath Tech?


Beneath the feet of Texas Tech University students walking to class, there is an entirely different part of campus — underground tunnels.

ben_tunnel-map_400The sprawling underground maze is between nine to 12 miles long and connects roughly 90 buildings, said Benny Smallwood, a foreman with the Texas Tech Physical Plant Department.

This underground world is responsible for carrying most of the campus utilities like fiberoptic cables, steamed and chilled water, and telephone lines.jb_tunnel-entrance

When a new building is added to campus, a decision must be made if the new structure will be tied to the university’s Central Heating and Cooling Plant — where all the tunnel system’s magic begins,  according to John Gallant, a utility plant operator with the Physical Plant Dept.

Two operators are on duty 24/7 to monitor the facility containing boilers and chillers — four of each — that manipulate air in buildings on campus.

jb_workers-400Using around 25 workers and numerous machinery, the plant operations work together to achieve a certain temperature and pressure that must be sent out.

Running off natural gas and using mostly purified city water, the larger boilers can produce 175,000 pounds of steam per hour — the smallest produces 125,000.

With a total production and natural gas cost of nearly $5,000 in 2012, the plant produced more than 750,000 million metric British thermal units of steam. This is equal to 220 GWh. The average sedan produces 112 kilowatts per hour. Therefore, the plant produces 1.69 million times more steam per hour than a sedan.

Steam production is added by a Cogen plant owned by Lubbock Power and Light on campus. The university saves money by providing LP&L’s plant with water and using steam the company’s plant generates.

Each boiler has a 20- to 25-year life span but costs a couple of million dollars to replace.jb_chacp-boilers

The chillers cool down the water enough for the temperature to be 36 degrees by the time it reaches the Administration Building, which is the farthest-reaching point of the tunnels.

The heating and cooling plant uses a circular system — the pressure being sent out usually winds up coming back, and the generated steam and chill water is condensed back down to make the water reusable.chacp-plan_400

Condensed water ends up in one of the four basins on each side of the plant — each of which can contain 10,000 gallons. Water falls from the basin to cool the water and  pumped back into the system, and the heat is blown out into the air. The plant also uses water pumped from wells all over campus.


All water, recycled or not, goes through the polisher, which decontaminates it before use. Chemical treatments remove things such as bugs and bacteria from recycled water as well as buildups of chemicals like calcium and magnesium from the city water, which is done to reduce corrosion or buildup in the system that would reduce efficiency.

Large machines called back-pressure turbines generate electrical energy to help treat the water and expand equipments’ life span.

The plant sends out the chill water and steam as well as water and compressed air through four tunnel entrances.jb_wiggins-tunnel-400

However, Smallwood said, all of the tunnels do not interconnect.

According to a 1969 article published by The University Daily, the tunnel system originated with the 1929 construction of the first building on campus – the Administration Building. A tunnel system like Tech’s is typical of most college campuses across the country, according to a 1956 article in the UD.1969-tunnels-clipping-400

Benny said the original tunnels, including the math and some science buildings, are short, narrow and hot because there were different standards of regulation then. The original CHACP, he said, was located where the Masked Rider statue currently stands by the Frazier Alumni Pavilion.

Some tunnels have been abandoned or have collapsed over the years. These are filled up with sand. One collapsed around six or seven years ago during the construction of the Carpenter/Wells complex.

jb_tunnel-400The younger tunnels are like Cadillacs compared to the old tunnels, Smallwood said — well-ventilated, cooler and have more room; you can almost drive a golf cart through them.

According to a Toreador publication about the tunnels at the height of World War II, several of them were touted as a safe place to be in the case of a bombing. A Toreador writer in 1941 suggested the solution of holding classes in the tunnels, noting, “If some joker should turn out the lights during tunnel classes there would be little difference, for most students are in the dark as far as classes are concerned anyway.”


There’s also a legend that the tunnels connected to a women’s dorm on campus, leading to the myth that a student died in the tunnels trying to reach his girlfriend’s dorm room.

The newest buildings to be attached include the some of the latest buildings to be added to campus: the new Burkhart Center for Autism, the recently completed Terry Fuller Petroleum Engineering Building and Rawls College of Business Building.

Photos by Ben Jarvis and J.B. Felipe. Video by Evan Dixon, Blake Silverthorn and Ben Jarvis. Abbie Arroyos also contributed to this report.

About Alicia Keene

Graduate Executive Director
Alicia Keene is a dual master's student from Austin, Texas studying mass communication and business. One day, she hopes to work for a prominent news publication in a major city as either a reporter or producer.


  1. Stan Lews says:

    Went into the tunnels many times in the 80’s. Not many people could get down there. Many scary incidents like walking next to closets that were frying with electricity. It was a major offense to get caught down there. It was a dangerous place. Also, we had a very ghostly moment on our last time down there. I can’t to this day explain what happened. And many years later (when the Internet came around) I read the ghost story of the kid that died down there – visiting his girlfriend. Well, we saw him. And this was 1987. He was there and looked 20 years out of place and scared the “shit” out of us! Never went down again and did not ever talk about it.

    • Hi Stan,

      Iv always been amazed and interested in the Texas tech tunnels. I was going to see if you could tell me more about them and stories on your experience in them.

      – Austin

  2. hey stan, id like to get some information from you about these tunnels. email me back please

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