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Tampa officials hope to fix temperature troubles

TAMPA — Outside, the summer temperature hovers at a stifling 90 degrees. But employees inside one city building keep space heaters under their desks in the middle of July to warm their toes.

Problems regulating the temperature inside the Department of Solid Waste and Environmental Program Management building on Spruce Street render some parts freezing and other parts sweltering.

The cause of the trouble at the 6-year-old, single-story building remains a mystery.

"They've been having some problems since day one," said Ray Herbert, superintendent of city facilities. "My team's been over there quite a bit."

Herbert said that in a building where 46 people work, it's often difficult to agree on a temperature setting.

But tests do show that humidity inside the building is generally above what's considered normal. That makes cold winter air feel more damp and hot summer air feel more sticky.

"When it rains, that's when you really notice it. The temperature inside the office is probably where it needs to be," he said. "But the humidity is what you're feeling."

In some areas of the building, the actual room temperature is about two degrees below the thermostat setting, he said.

Tests show that the building has no mold, but Herbert has tried several fixes to address discomfort.

Two thermostats for the 9,800-square-foot building are typically set at 74 degrees — the coolest setting allowed in city buildings during summer — and sometimes lower. Herbert also adjusted the timing of exhaust fans. He checked for air leaks. He considered dehumidifiers.

He generally discourages the use of space heaters.

"There's a safety issue, with fire. If someone leaves it on, you could burn a building down," he said. "There's an energy issue. You're introducing an artificial heat load to an environment."

That throws the thermostat out of whack.

"The thermostat on the wall doesn't know if it's warmer or it's a space heater," he said.

But the department has made allowances and even shelled out more than $100 to buy about a half-dozen portable heaters.

"People were so concerned about how cold they were," said Nancy McCann, the city's urban environmental coordinator. "They said, 'You're making us sick.' "

However, other officials said no formal health complaints had been registered.

Department employees contacted by the Times declined to comment for this story.

Tonja Brickhouse, hired as director of the Solid Waste Department earlier this year, said Herbert's division has done all it can.

"Now we're going to step it up and bring in an engineer," she said.

Parker Stephens Inc. of Tampa will be paid $25,000 for the work.

City officials haven't contacted the contractor, Pilot Construction Technology Inc. of Safety Harbor, which earned $1.4-million for the project.

"If we knew something specific that was his responsibility, we would have been back to him in a heartbeat. But we're not there," said David Vaughn, who manages city contracts. "Once we know what it is we've got to fix, then we'll fix it."

The building is no longer under warranty, he said.

Abdi Boozar-Jomehri, president of Pilot Construction, said he built the building according to specifications, and his work was inspected throughout the process.

"The specs on that one are quite elaborate, just like any other government project," he said.

Vaughn said he doesn't recall working with Pilot Construction on any other Tampa buildings.

The company was the low bidder on an Oldsmar fire station in 2001 and sued when the work was given to another company.

Oldsmar city officials said at the time that Pilot's bid was rejected in part because another company owned by Boozar-Jomehri had a legal dispute with the Pinellas County School District.

Court records show those cases were dismissed.

Researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Tampa officials hope to fix temperature troubles 07/23/08 [Last modified: Thursday, July 24, 2008 6:18pm]
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