On the campus of Montana State University, there is a long-standing rumor among the student body about a series of tunnels running underneath campus.

A tunnel system does indeed run below campus. And it is shrouded in mystery and legend, as many students are unaware of its purpose or existence.

“I thought they were just a rumor. I didn’t know they were real,” said MSU senior Michael Grimland.

The tunnels, which were built starting in 1995, span roughly 1.6 miles underneath MSU. More than 45.5 million pounds of concrete provide housing for a variety of pipes.

The tunnels originate at the university heat plant, home to a steam generator that provides about 6 percent of the total energy used on campus.

Despite the “spooky” and mysterious reputation surrounding the tunnels, they are well-maintained and well-lit, housing services such as steam supply, condensation return, communication cables, and water for irrigation and domestic use.

Students don’t often recognize the benefits of the tunnels, said E.J. Hook, environmental services manager at MSU. Hook pointed out how easily and inexpensively the tunnels and pipes provide heat and water to people on campus.

“This is such a reliable distribution system; it allows us to get heat and water where we need it very quickly,” Hook said.

Instead of having pipes buried in the ground, the tunnels allow for much easier access for repairs and updates. Hook said to fix a problem with the pipes, workers no longer have to dig around to find the source. They just “take a leisurely stroll through the tunnels.”

“It is a lot easier to find and fix any problems that we have with the tunnels,” Hook said. “They save us a lot of money.”

Hook said he has only heard one legitimate piece of gossip concerning the tunnels.

“I’ve heard that a batch of kittens got loose in the tunnels a while back and that they had some trouble getting them out,” he said. “They say some might still be living down here.”

Tristan Abbott can be reached at tabbott@dailychronicle.com or 582-2651.

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