Mendota Mental Health Institute Energy Upgrades

 In Case Study, Insights, Safety


Lean construction, subcontractor collaboration, and stringent safety measures play key role in successful decommissioning and replacement one of the last remaining state-operated coal-fired boilers.

Project Overview

CG Schmidt managed the decommissioning, removal, and disposal of an existing 60,000 BTU coal-fired boiler for the state-run Mendota Mental Health Institute in Madison, Wisconsin. Accredited by The Joint Commission, Mendota Mental Health Institute (MMHI) primarily serves men in need of court-ordered mental health competency evaluations, treatment to competency services, and treatment as the result of being found not guilty of criminal activity by reason of mental illness. The facility dates back to 1860, when it was opened as the Wisconsin Hospital for the Insane. MMHI is one of two psychiatric hospitals operated by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

In addition to decommissioning, removing, and disposing of the existing coal-fired boiler, CG Schmidt managed the installation of a new gas / oil packaged boiler with economizer, conversion of two remaining boilers to gas / oil-fired only, replacement of controls and BMS on the two remaining boilers, and replacement of BOP with a new PLC system. These systems provide heat to the entire mental health campus.



In spite of the relatively small project size from a contract amount standpoint, this project posed a number of substantial challenges related to safety and logistics planning. The first of which was a 20-hour shutdown of all systems while the 60,000 BTU coal-fired boiler was taken offline. This included taking out power, leaving crews to accomplish all rigging, and repiping solely by construction lights. Because the Institute actively housed patients, HIPAA restrictions required patients to have access to heat and heated water. Failure to meet the decommissioning objectives within the allotted timeframe would have put the entire Institute in violation of federal requirements.

In order to accomplish the decommissioning within the 20-hour window, CG Schmidt’s project team held pull planning sessions with the facility maintenance team and key subcontractors to plan out every step of the process to ensure a smooth delivery.

Decommissioning the existing coal-fired boiler involved shutting down plant operations for a 20-hour period. Pull-planning sessions with the plant staff and trade partners helped ensure the team was able to meet the timeframe.


The second major logistical challenge was installing the new 33,000-gallon gas / oil-fired boiler. Because the tank was being installed in an existing, multi-floor and operational facility, it couldn’t be craned in through the roof, and instead had to be moved into place through an existing door with less than an inch and a half tolerance. The tank was taken off of the transport truck using a crane, then placed onto a system of rollers to move it into the building.

Because of the boiler tank’s weight (roughly 90,000 lbs when empty and nearly 140,000 lbs when full), the project team was concerned about the ability of the 80-year old floor to handle the load as it was moved. And because of the amount of piping throughout the building, only limited shoring of the floor was an option. Working with the structural engineer, the team was able to ascertain that the floor could in fact handle the weight, although they continued to monitor it for cracking after installation.

Once the tank was ready to be installed, the team discovered that due to a manufacturing defect, the tank did not match the approved shop drawings and the saddles were not aligned with the concrete piers. After conferring with the manufacturer, it was determined that the tank could not be altered and maintain its integrity, so the CG Schmidt self-perform concrete crews were instead able to reform the concrete pad to accommodate the boiler tank as-built.

Due to the nature of the structure, the new 90,000 lb. boiler had to be brought in through an existing opening with less than 2″ of clearance, then tilted to be lowered through a newly-cut opening in the floor.


The last major project challenge was related to safety. A pre-project inspection of the facility revealed an enormous amount of coal dust throughout the building from decades of coal burning. Due to the explosive nature of coal dust, and the amount of hot-work needed for the project, the project team brought in CG Schmidt’s Safety Director to help form a hazard mitigation plan along with the plant manager. The project team underwent NIOSH training specifically for working with coal dust and brought in an industrial hygienist to approve work.


One of the last state-run coal-fired plants in Wisconsin, at its peak this facility burned nearly 11,000 tons of coal annually, producing an enormous amount of air pollutants. Replacing the coal-fired boiler and converting the two remaining boilers to 100% oil and natural gas removes a substantial amount of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and particulate matter from our atmosphere.

In addition to the sustainable nature of the project, the project team met WasteCap TRACE goals for material recycling and diversion. CG Schmidt was able to exceed the mandated diversion goal of 65%, keeping 174 tons of material waste from ending up in a landfill.

The new gas / oil-fired boiler removes thousands of tons of coal from being burned annually.


  • 10,846 tons: Amount of coal burned at plant’s peak
  • 90,000 pounds: Empty weight of the new boiler
  • 33,000 gallons: Storage capacity of the new boiler tank
  • 20,000 SF: Total footprint of the facility over 5 floors
  • 174 tons: Construction waste diverted from landfills
  • 2 months: Amount of time the project was delivered early

Planning your own plant upgrade? Contact our construction professionals today.

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