Airing out frustrations


POSTED: Saturday, October 24, 2009

Question: The state comptroller recently issued an order that all the state buildings under the control of the Department of Accounting and General Services will have shortened air conditioning hours—around 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., resulting in extremely warm conditions. I heard that he didn't apply this policy to his own building or the state Capitol. I heard that people in his building have to wear jackets because their building is too cold. This is unfair. If we have to suffer, then he, the governor and the Legislature should also suffer. Is this true?

Answer: On Aug. 20, state Comptroller Russ Saito sent a memo to tenants in 10 buildings, under the jurisdiction of his Department of Accounting and General Services, informing them that the air conditioning systems would be turned on one hour “;or more”; later in the morning and turned off one hour “;or more”; earlier in the day.

The plan was to implement the shortened schedule in buildings in which the system supplying fresh air is independent of the cooling system, he said.

The Kalanimoku Building, DAGS' headquarters, was to be included in the new schedule, but Saito said its air conditioning system had to be modified first so it could provide fresh air while the cooling system was off.

That modification has since been completed, and, as of Oct. 19, air conditioning in the Kalanimoku Building is turned on at 8 a.m. and turned off at 3:30 p.m. weekdays, he said.

Eight a.m.—not 9 a.m.—to 3:30 p.m. are the hours in effect at most of the offices in buildings covered by the new policy, he said.

Air conditioning at the state Capitol has not yet been reduced because of its heavy public use. Currently, even though the Legislature is not in session, there have been full schedules of hearings and other activities.

“;When circumstances are right, we will adjust the hours of operation at the Capitol, as well,”; Saito said.

In other state buildings, department heads can extend air conditioning hours if work hours are extended, but only if they pay for the extra electricity. Some departments are not willing to do so, Saito said.

Question: We work in the State Office Tower and were informed that to save money, air conditioning hours would be reduced. The building remains extremely warm most of the day, and just when it starts to get cool, the air conditioning goes off. Temperatures have been recorded in the 80s without any windows to open. What does the governor hope to achieve by this? Other state buildings are noticeably cooler. We have been unsuccessful in getting the temperatures adjusted; as a result, productivity and morale have suffered.

Answer: Adjustments can be made if “;we see problems that require changes in the hours of operation,”; said state Comptroller Russ Saito.

As to getting temperatures readjusted, he said a check of the trouble call log for your building didn't find any more calls than usual, and most of the calls were not about the reduced air conditioning. Those that were, were not about the same areas.

That all said, Saito said adjustments have been made in other buildings: The start and end times in the Liliuokalani Building have been adjusted by a half-hour, while in the Kakuhihewa Building in Kapolei, the cooling is started an hour earlier Monday mornings because of the pronounced heat buildup over the weekends.

At the Kekuanaoa Building and on the sixth floor of the Kakuhihewa Building, the departments are paying to have an extra hour of air conditioning both morning and afternoon.

Saito explained that many of the air conditioning systems were designed and installed years ago, so certain parts of a building can be relatively warm while, in other parts, people complain of being too cold. The dated systems also are not efficient in directing the cooling air into smaller areas or responding quickly to changing conditions.

“;We are initiating projects to achieve energy efficiency that will fix such problems, but we will need to do so over time because of cost considerations,”; he said.

Although the air conditioning hours have been cut, Saito said air conditioning fans are kept running to both circulate the air and bring outside air into the building.

As to what will be achieved by the cutback, Saito said the goal is to not deplete the electricity budget and end up with no air conditioning at all.

DAGS' fiscal year 2010 electricity budget for Oahu buildings is $5.7 million. The estimated bill, with oil at $70 a barrel, is $7.6 million.

“;Last year we were short and made up the difference with other budget dollars and still carried over $.3 million in electricity costs,”; Saito said. “;If we don't reduce our electricity costs, we will run out of money to pay our Oahu electricity bill by December.”;

He said the shutdown of buildings on certain Furlough Fridays, announced earlier this week, is not expected to result in enough savings to affect the new air conditioning schedule.

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