ST. PETERSBURG — Officials knew the day would come when the cobbled-together cooling system at the aging police annex building finally died.
Everyone just hoped it would make it until a new headquarters was built. The agency wasn't that lucky.
Several weeks ago, the air-conditioning unit faltered, then gave out completely. Employees who work in the 1930s building at 13th Street and First Avenue N dealt with a makeshift solution that included several portable AC units rounded up from other city departments.
Now a stopgap measure to cool the building until a new $40 million headquarters is built — which could be two years or more away — will cost taxpayers at least $90,000.
"We didn't want to put any more money into it," said Mike McDonald, the department's assistant director for administrative services. "Unfortunately we have to bite the bullet on this one."
More than two dozen people work at the annex building, which also houses the forensics unit.
"Creature comforts are one thing, but I have equipment and chemicals that have to be cool," said Sgt. Ray Waldo, who heads the unit. "I was dealing with 90 degrees in here."
The building's cooling system was recommended for replacement years ago. Rust covers many of the pipes. City maintenance workers have attended to it as best they can.
"The vendors won't even work on it because they're afraid it will break," McDonald said.
Officials, knowing that a new building was in the works, deferred an overhaul.
But when it became clear that even the tiny portable units weren't working a few weeks ago, city officials decided the best thing was to order a new unit, which will cost about $78,000.
While that is being built — from scratch so it can be retrofitted to the old building — officials decided they needed something better, especially for the forensics unit.
They have rented a 60-ton chiller, which sits in the building's parking lot. The chiller will cost $4,000 a month. McDonald said it is expected to be in place for three to four months.
Mike Connors, the city's public works administrator, said it was more prudent to buy the new AC unit than rent one monthly because it is still unclear when the new station will be complete.
And, he said, officials ultimately hope to recycle the unit.
"I would expect we would be able to reuse it at other city locations," Connors said. The leisure services department is to inherit the chiller, he said.
Meanwhile, city staffers continue to negotiate with Harvard Jolly, an architectural and engineering firm, for the headquarters project.
Connors said he hopes to bring something to the City Council by March. The board will have to approve the negotiated price for the project to proceed.
"Our objective is to get the best price for taxpayers," Connors said.
Kameel Stanley can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8643.