Augusta, ME - Faulty heating system forces state to close offices at VA Building 205 : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Tuesday, June 27, 2000 Faulty heating system forces state to close offices at VA Building 205

By DAN McGILLVRAY, Staff Writer Copyright ) 2000 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.

AUGUSTA  A faulty heating system pushed temperatures to more than 100 degrees inside a building at the Veterans Administration Medical and Regional Office Center at Togus, forcing many of the building's 180 state and federal workers to stay out of their offices Monday.

Many employees went home shortly after they arrived as technicians repaired the control system that kept oil-fired boilers and steam radiators emitting heat over the weekend in Building 205.

About 155 state workers with the Department of Human Services, the Secretary of State's Office and the Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation have temporary offices in the three-story brick building. About 25 VA employees also work there.

An air-pressure system that regulates thermostats malfunctioned when a compressor shut down, spokesman Jim Simpson said.

"It was pumping out steam heat," he said.

By late Monday afternoon, fans and air conditioners had cooled some offices, and no heating problems are anticipated Tuesday, Simpson said.

Julie Flynn, the deputy secretary of state in charge of the corporations, elections and commissions division, learned about the stifling situation shortly after 7 a.m., when an accounting specialist called the main office with the news.

"We have a meter that records heat and humidity. We were at 104 to 106 degrees," said Flynn, adding that breathing was difficult.

About 35 state department employees were sent home for the day, with pay, she added. All those workers' offices are on the first floor.

DHS workers occupy much of the second and third floors.

"As of noon, it was about 94 degrees," said DHS spokesman David Winslow, adding that interior humidity levels were low.

While information technology experts tested computer systems in the building for possible heat-related damage, fans and air conditioners worked furiously to lower room temperatures. The Togus fire department brought in fans and the DHS brought in additional air conditioners.

As of 1 p.m., fewer than half of the DHS employees were still in the building, and they were working near air conditioners, said Winslow.

The workers are with the DHS Bureau of Medical Services, which processes Medicaid claims. This is the second time this year that those workers have been chased from their offices.

In mid-April, they were moved from 249 Western Ave. to the Togus building because of apparent air quality concerns. At the time, about one-third of the workers at the Western Avenue site had reported illnesses such as rashes, dry throats and coughs.

Winslow said fans and air conditioners would continue running Monday night and into Tuesday morning. About half the DHS work force left Monday morning with orders to call at noon for an update on conditions, and a possible return to work.

But because office temperatures had dropped from the high 90s to only the mid-90s, the employees were told to stay away for the day.

Outdoor temperatures, which hovered around 90 degrees in the afternoon, hampered the interior cooling techniques.

The weekend also was hot, especially Sunday, when scattered thunderstorms failed to cool the air significantly. While greater Augusta basked under summer temperatures, steam radiators emitted heat in Building 205.

Simpson said other building problems, including flooded basements, have surfaced at Togus over the years, but this is the first time a building has been heated to triple digits in the summer. The heat problem would have been detected quickly in a hospital building, where patients and staff are on the premises during weekends, he added.

"We'll fix the compressor," said Simpson, who works in Building 203. About 180 workers are in the affected building during a typical workday, he said.

Jack Sims, Togus' director, went in the overheated building Monday to assess the conditions.

In recent years, state workers in some Augusta Mental Health Institute buildings, in the Department of Education building and in the State Office Building have been sent home on summer days when office temperatures and humidity concentrations became too severe.

Those conditions are changing gradually.

The education building is scheduled for demolition, central air conditioning is being installed in the 45-year-old State Office Building, and two AMHI buildings  Tyson and Marquardt  have been renovated with new heating and cooling systems.

-- Doris (, June 27, 2000

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