Problems with air conditioning affect productivity at VITEMA headquarters

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The V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency's headquarters on St. Thomas has been experiencing problems with its air-conditioning system that have impacted staff productivity, but officials say they are working to get the problems fixed.

The air-conditioning problems are not affecting the 911 Emergency Communications Center, said VITEMA spokeswoman Christine Lett.

Although the 911 Emergency Communications Center is housed in the same building in Estate Nisky, it is under a completely different air-conditioning system as a failsafe measure, she said. That system is working without problems, according to Lett.

The problems in the rest of the VITEMA building involve two chillers, which cool most of the building except for the communication center, and a water pump, Lett said.

VITEMA has a contract with a local company called Tempaire to do maintenance on the cooling system and perform routine tasks, such as cleaning filters, she said.

When the building started experiencing problems with the air-conditioning system in December, Tempaire requested assistance from Trane Puerto Rico, Lett said.

Workers from Trane came in, did an assessment and listed what needed to be done to bring the air-conditioning system back online, which involved replacing certain parts that had experienced wear and tear, she said.

"In the interim, they suggested we repair one of the compressors to cool the building until we replaced the parts that needed to be replaced," she said. "And so that's what we did. And then that compressor went down. But the process has begun to purchase the replacement parts. Today it may have been fixed enough to cool the building somewhat."

Lett said when the compressor is working properly, it provides some cooling and relief from the heat in the enclosed office space, "hopefully enough to make it bearable."

The compressor can be repaired locally, Lett said. On Tuesday, she said that the compressor may now be working again.

Lett said VITEMA is getting the money for the new air-conditioning system parts - which cost approximately $11,000 - from its general fund budget. The parts have not been ordered yet because the purchase order still is being processed in the government's financial system, she said.

She said she did not know when the air-conditioning system would be fixed and fully functional again.

"I can't put a time on it," she said.

For now, she said, VITEMA Director Elton Lewis is trying to give employees options.

On days when the compressor is working, staff can opt to work and leave the building periodically to spend time outside, do field work if possible, or even take sick leave, according to Lett.

On days when the compressor is not working and there is no air-conditioning at all, employees are given administrative leave, Lett said.

"Some days, the building is basically unbearable. It's too hot. We've tried turning off lights, but on the days it's unbearable, the director allows them to go home," she said.

She acknowledged the problems are affecting staff productivity, but said officials are trying to do what they can. She said on Tuesday she did not know how many administrative leave days had been granted in connection with the air-conditioning problems on St. Thomas.

"We're trying to work as quickly as possible to get the system up and running," she said. "We also want to stress that it's not affecting the 911 center."

- Contact Joy Blackburn at 714-9145 or email

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