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Courthouse suffers the heat

By By JOHN DILMORE JR. Publisher
Rising temperatures and a failing air conditioning system brought members of the Escambia County Commission together Thursday for a specially called meeting.
The situation led to them lopping one week off the bidding period for new equipment, after declaring the climate inside the courthouse an emergency situation.
The courthouse air conditioning system -- already limping along at 75 percent capacity -- took a hit last week when one of its compressors ceased functioning. That left the units able to carry only half their intended workload.
But with that relief behind them, the commission went ahead and took measures to get new air conditioning equipment in as quickly as possible. It is hoped it can be installed within the next two weeks.
The rush is primarily because of the load now being placed on the units that are still functioning. With the recent compressor failure, the machinery left running is taxed even harder by trying to cool the building.
The commission voted unanimously on three measures relating to heating and cooling the courthouse. The first was to declare the current state of affairs an emergency situation. The second was to purchase a 110-ton "chiller" from Train Air Conditioning Systems, at a cost of just over $40,000. The third was to authorize White to award installation of the new equipment to the lowest responsible bidder.
The county began a process of improving climate control and lighting equipment inside the courthouse last fall, employing Southern Company Energy Solutions to advise on and oversee the work.
As the current air conditioning system was wobbling onto its last legs, the process of getting new machinery had already begun, with a request for bids on the new equipment publicized.
What the commission did Thursday amounted to fast-forwarding through that process, after declaring that an impending emergency required them to do so.
Commissioners pointed out that the purchase of the new equipment did not amount to a quick fix, but was an intended part of the improvement plans they already had underway.
And White added, "The prices we are getting are probably as good as we could get if we'd bid it for another week."
In other action Thursday, the commission voted to approve as new county commission meeting schedule, as called for by a recently passed state law.
The law requires county commissions to set the dates and times they are going to meet now, then re-set them after each county election. It also gives commissions more leeway in setting their meeting schedules.
The commission currently meets on the second and fourth Mondays of each month. Commissioners voted Thursday to keep meeting on those days, with the second meeting of the month held according to need. If not needed, it will not be held.
Also Thursday, the commission:
Citing concerns over the fairness of doing this on one dirt road -- when there are so many in need of help throughout the county -- the county decided, without bringing it up for a vote, not to pursue the matter under those terms.
But after a homeowner Mason Fleming expressed a willingness to purchase the materials himself, county engineer John Downing said he would look into the possibility of the county helping by hauling and spreading the material.