Friday, July 6, 2012

Middleton Public Library 1999: We're Having a Heat Wave, and There's No Air Conditioning

Call us crazy, or call it public service beyond the call of duty, but there was no way we wanted to keep the library closed for a month.

It's duly noted here that I had the pleasure of working with a dedicated, hard-working, customer-focused staff throughout my 22 years at Middleton.

The crisis as described in letters to Mom.

Friday, June 4, 1999.  A Hint of Things to Come.
June is off to a cool start, the daytime high temperatures barely registering 70 degrees. This unseasonable weather has been lucky for those of us who work at the library, where the air-conditioning was not working for 2½ days this week. The inside of the building started to get a little stuffy on Tuesday. Usually when this happens, we can flip the switch of the main condensing unit in the basement mechanical room, and the system reboots itself, or whatever. Despite my repeated efforts, that contingency didn’t work. Time to call American Heating & Air Conditioning. Of course, it would take a day for someone to respond to our call.

On Wednesday, the service technician discovered a Freon leak, and it took him the rest of the day and all day yesterday to make the necessary repairs. (That invoice will put a big dent in the building maintenance subaccount of the library’s budget!) Today the library was almost too cold, even after we made the necessary adjustments to the air-flow controls on some of the ceiling vents.

Monday, July 25.  Worst Possible News.
I’m not going to be able to make it to the state baseball tournament in Menomonie.

Today I received the worst possible news from a couple of technicians from a local heating and air-conditioning service. Our a-c system died, probably from a power surge or a lightning strike, although none of us at the library could remember a time when lightning struck anywhere near the building. Now I need to attend to the details of writing up an insurance report, arranging for a replacement system to be installed, and securing contingency funding in the neighborhood of $30,000 from the city. (Fortunately, the council meets next week.)

This crisis couldn’t have occurred at a worse time. We experienced the muggiest weekend of the summer so far, and the long-range forecast for the week is a bleak: chance of thunderstorms and temperatures approaching 90 degrees every single day.

Today the interior of the library was stifling, although by the evening the numerous fans we had placed at the entrance and near the various service desks provided a little bit of relief. If the heat doesn’t break by the end of the week, I wonder if we’ll have to close for awhile. A new system isn’t likely to be installed and operating for at least a couple weeks.

The carpeting between the circulation and reference desk is starting to buckle, and the intense humidity trapped inside the building is only going to make that condition worse. I just try to keep my eyes focused on the big picture and tell myself, “This, too, will pass.”

Sunday, July 25.  Update.
First of all, I’ll give you an update on the library air-conditioning crisis.

The city requires bids for any projects over $10,000, no matter what the emergency, so that hurdle kept us from progressing as quickly as I hoped we would. It wasn’t until late Friday afternoon that the finance director, city custodian, and I decided on which replacement system to order. The cost of this project will be very close to the ballpark estimate we were given last Monday, when the service technicians gave our nonoperating system its final rites: $31,000. The new system won’t be available for shipment until August 5th, and delivery takes 7 to 10 days, which means the library will continue to be without a cooling system until mid-August.

Last Thursday, the city administrator told me that the mayor was starting to take an interest in this problem, perhaps postponing a decision to the next council meeting, scheduled for the 27th. But on Friday, as we sat down to our meeting to review the bids, the finance director said, “We’re going to order something today.” The mayor may not be pleased with his being kept out of the loop as a final decision was made, but I was not about to let anything delay this project any further.

Because of the delay in gathering bids, we were unable to hold onto a replacement system our service technicians had located in Nashville, Tennessee. We had to commit to it by Wednesday afternoon, which didn’t fit our suddenly expanded schedule. Replacing the library air-conditioning system is not like walking into a local warehouse and picking something off the shelf. Some of the other vendors who provided bids weren’t able to deliver a unit until late August.

We survived the hottest, most humid week of the month, although by Friday afternoon, the interior of the library was starting to feel like a sauna. I decided we’d only be open four hours on Saturday, from 9:00 to 1:00, instead of our usual eight hours.

The heat has intensified this weekend, with the high temperatures in the low 90s yesterday, the mid 90s today.  I plan to visit the library later today to check on how intolerable the conditions have become. I also want to see if there has been any further residual damage. The carpet is buckling all over the place. We had to put up signs telling people to “Watch Your Step”. We lost a computer terminal at the reference desk. We have to keep one of the photocopiers off since the humidity-drenched paper keeps jamming. Who knows what else will pop up during the next three weeks?

Thursday, August 19.  New System Up and Running
Our new air-conditioning system has been up and running since Monday afternoon. The unit was in place on the Thursday I returned to work, but it took until Monday for the final installation procedures and a check of the electrical wiring to be completed. Naturally, we’re all pleased to have our comfortable work environment back again. Just as I predicted, the weather immediately turned unseasonably cool. No record-breaking low temperatures, though.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm reminded of the old Williams Free Library in Beaver Dam in the early 80's. Sometime around September or October the inspector came in and condemned the boilers and we had no heat until late February. There were a couple space heaters but we couldn't plug in too many because they'd blow fuses. We closed the 2nd floor children's room and moved a few shelves of things down to the main floor. Staff dressed in layers.

Mark Arend