The city is planning to replace a problem-plagued air-conditioning system at Police Department and Fire Department headquarters — and officials say they hope to have the buildings chilled by the end of June.
The City Council is set to hold a public hearing on April 2 to discuss a proposal to bond $400,000 to fund the project for the departments’ headquarters. Both are attached to City Hall, but have a separate heating and air-conditioning system that, according to a resolution passed on Tuesday to schedule the hearing, is “non-functional and beyond repair.”
“The building is pushing 60 years old, so the systems are showing their age,” said Department of Public Works Commissioner John Mirando.
In 2017, Mirando said that the city had allocated $300,000 in its capital budget to replace the HVAC system. But officials said they later learned that the cost of replacing the entire system would be $637,000.
“We had gotten some preliminary numbers to replace the system, and the recommendation was to replace it with a roof-mounted system,” Mirando explained, adding that the city would still use the previously allocated $300,000 for the project. “The bid prices came in higher than the initial engineer’s estimate. The bid process was also taking longer for the design.”
Last year, the city rented a temporary HVAC unit, though officials said that the cost to rent a system for just one summer season is roughly $200,000. The resolution stated that it would be “Financially prudent to replace the entire system now, without adding to the overall cost of replacement by implementing a temporary, short-lived solution.”
The city said it had already received three bids for the project, and was hoping to choose the lowest responsible bidder.
“We rented temporary units, and they worked OK but were really not great,” Mirando said. “The temporary system worked better in the Fire Department. Part of the issue in the Police Department is that the ventilation fans aren’t working. And with the ventilation issues it was very humid in there.”
City officials did not say whether the recent downgrade of the city’s credit rating by Moody’s Investors Service — which could result in higher interest rates — would have an impact on the proposed bond measure.
There have been issues with air conditioning for several summers, according to police and fire union leaders, who said that the project is long overdue. Rocco Walsh, president of the Long Beach Police Benevolent Association, said that the working conditions have affected morale among the union’s 65 members.
Police Commissioner Mike Tangney did not immediately return a call requesting comment.
Though temporary repairs were made, photos of thermometers reading 90 degrees or more, and the use of electric fans inside the Police Department, made the rounds on social media over the past few years.
“The union is still very annoyed, because it’s been over two years,” Walsh said. “There’s no ventilation. They brought in some of those portable units . . . but there’s nowhere to ventilate these portable units.”
Sam Pinto, president of the Long Beach Professional Firefighters Local 287, said that the issue has been a long-term problem “that shouldn’t have been temporarily fixed with short-term, expensive measures.”
“Firefighters can handle the heat, but we shouldn’t be expected to continue to have unacceptable working conditions,” Pinto added. “The air quality is poor.”
City Hall has had issues with its own air-conditioning system: In 2017, a broken unit forced officials to close the building for two days and send hundreds of employees home during sweltering summer heat while repairs were made.
Last July, residents grew irate at a council meeting at which temperatures topped 90 degrees, and officials said they were unable to fix a cooling unit because a contractor was still owed money. The unit was fixed shortly afterward.
“When it’s too hot, City Hall workers can take off,” Pinto said. “As emergency responders, we don’t have that option.”
Walsh echoed that sentiment, and said he hoped the project would be completed in time for the summer. “Hopefully we’ll get this done,” he said, “and have acceptable working conditions inside the building.”
Mirando said that the project, if approved, is expected to take about three months. It includes installing a new HVAC unit — including a 30-ton “chiller” — on the roof of the building. (Part of the existing system is located inside the Police Department.) The project also calls for a new compressor, ventilation system and air handlers. Mirando said that the work, which would include asbestos removal, would be scheduled to avoid any disruption to services.
“There’s a huge electrical component to this — when you have a ventilation system, everything has to be tied into the alarm system,” Mirando explained. “I think if we get it moving along quickly, it will be online by June — at least the cooling portion of it — so we have air conditioning. And through the summer they can finish the heating portion of it.”