Patrolling the highways beneath the U of A
Campus life above ground at the University of Alberta would not exist were it not for the campus life that toils below.
It’s hard to imagine, but a second city featuring nearly 10 kilometres of buried tunnels is patrolled by a small army of technicians and tradespeople who service the university’s full complement of utilities.
Central to the care of this corridor is a fleet of 26 customized motorcycles. And central to that fleet’s care is 10-year mechanical utilities veteran, Cliff Klassen.
“You can imagine having to do the work in the utilities corridor by foot; it would take your crew much more time to service the high voltage, cooling plant and steam and mechanical utilities,” said Klassen, who previously spent 25 years working for Volkswagon Audi Group. “Everything is down there, so you have to have quick access to everything, and motorcycles are perfect for it.”
Due to a limited clearance within the corridor, the university has opted for Honda’s smaller Z50 series of motorcycle, each of which Klassen has customized.
“I do a six-month service on each of them, wire on special headlights, install handle bars with three-inch risers and put on seats from a bigger bike, then I modify them with trailer hitches at the back,” he said.
Klassen, who has been motorcycle enthusiast for 40 years, is also responsible for the motorcycle safety training for the corridor’s newest employees.
In this role, he outlines the corridor’s motorcycle safety protocol and reviews the care and operation of the motorcycles. “As you can imagine, with that amount of tunnel and that many bikes, there could be problems.”
While all things motorcycle is the main part of Klassen’s job, it is just one piece. Besides assisting all the other trades in the maintenance of the utilities corridor, his team is responsible for servicing every water and sewer system with a U of A stamp on it, from the 100-plus fire hydrants on the main campus to the main line at the Meanook Biological Research Station near Athabasca about 135 kilometres north of the U of A’s main campus.
Maybe because he spends his days in the deeps, when Klassen has some free time he likes to get as far above the ground as possible, choosing to mountaineer when he gets the chance. Klassen says the trust he finds in mountain climbing, The ultimate in team pursuits, is simply an extension of his work environment at the university.
“At the university, there is never a situation where you would feel you’re on your own in any of the emergencies we have dealt with,” said Klassen, who has some mountain climbing in the Swiss Alps planned for the summer. “The crew is an amazing, incredibly honest group of guys.
“Everybody gets along unusually well, actually, and the different departments work very well together. It’s a pleasure to work with everybody.”