I don't even remember how it started.
Maybe it was just because UMass was building a new heating plant. Or maybe it all started when Ilya and Klotz claimed to find a stairway to hell in Chenoweth. Or maybe when my mom told that she had used a tunnel between the Campus Center and Morrill. Something about that got me interested in tunnels on campus. That, in turn, inspired interest in steam tunnels, which let me to the steam plant that led me to this.
A power plant on Orchard Hill?! Something seemed fishy about that. I lived in upper central at the time so I was on the hill a good deal and I saw nothing remotely looking like an old power plant or the defunct remains of one. Then I found the evidence I needed: pictures from the university archives depicting a structure decidedly unlike the UMass steam plant. A legitemate mystery was unfolding: where was this phantom power plant and why didn't anyone seem to know about it.
I started hard-core googling. And my next clue I think was a post on a UMass Basketball fans forum. I can't find it any more, but it described a power plant built in the 70s at Tilson that suffered a ruptured steam line and was never used. Using google maps, I found something that looked an awful lot like a power plant.
This was huge.
With the location in hand new information poured forth. A letter from the online archive of UMass Magazine proved absolutely invaluable. We had a real coverup on our hands!
So what's there to know? Unfortunately many of the sources I used to compile this I can't find online anymore, but here's a crack at it. A 1969 report of federal grants show a $9 million line item for UMass to build a steam plant at Tilson farm. It got finished around 1973, I saw a report that the EPA had a lawsuit out against UMass for continuing to operate the old plant past its slated date of decommission. So what went wrong? It seems like there was an issue with pumping the steam down hill. Tilson farm is the highest area of campus, and its worth noting that the new plant is built in probably the lowest. A steam line on Eastman Lane burst when initially powering up the plant. This neatly coincided with the oil crisis and the new oiler burning plant was shelved in favor of the old coal burning one. Furthermore, utility deregulation, which was the reason why previous steam plants were not used to cogenerate electrical power, pushed the issue for UMass to build a larger plant, which seems to have been operating seamlessly for some months now. The Tilson farm plant is now used as a maintenance building.
What does UMass have to say about this? Officially, nothing. The earlier-referenced letter was in response to an article where a higher-up in campus planning made no mention of the Tilson farm plant when directly asked about the history of steam on the UMass campus. I guess it's understandable. 9 million 1970 dollars is nothing to sneeze at, especially when the result is unmitigated failure. Unofficially, there are some clues. Look at the 15th picture on this page. The description doesn't seem to match, but doesn't the signage took like it could say "University of Massachusetts Tilson Farm Boiler Plant"? Look at the online request form for a fire extinguisher. In the list of locations there is a curious item "Paradis Boiler Plant (Tilson)". Or the mention of the "Tilson Power Plant" on a page listing union stewards. Recent Physical Plant maintenance scheduled have referenced the Tilson Farm/Paradis plant and Paradis Road.
Therein lies the last mystery. Why "Paradis"? Is Paradis a person? The construction company that built the plant? I feel like it's one of those things I'll just never find out.