Library shuts down during heat wave

An early heat wave that struck the District forced Gelman Library to close twice this week and prompted complaints from students and professors in buildings across campus.

Temperatures reached at least 90 degrees in Gelman Library Wednesday due to a failed cooling system, staff said, prompting them to close the building “until further notice.” The University also struggled to cool down academic halls, including Duques and Funger halls, and residence halls such as Ivory Tower and Francis Scott Key Hall, as GW made the switch from heating to air conditioning.

The University expects to open the library Thursday, spokeswoman Michelle Sherrard said, adding that it’s not definite because it will “take some period for the cool air to circulate through the

Media Credit: Delaney Walsh | Contributing Photo Editor
Senior Jason Katz takes advantage of a rare cool spot in the library.

building.” Gelman was one of at least 10 libraries that shut down across the District Wednesday during record-high temperatures.

An industrial fan sat near the library’s entrance to boost air circulation, and smaller fans were stationed throughout the building, though few students spent time on the sweltering upper floors.

The problem stemmed from the building’s chiller, a machine used to remove hot air, which Gelman Library was slated to replace later this spring. Crews spent hours installing a temporary chiller near the back of the building Wednesday.

Facility crews have also been turning on air conditioning in buildings across campus as temperatures soared past 80 degrees – nearly 30 degrees higher than a week ago. The process of switching from heating to air conditioning can take up to two weeks for the entire campus.

Sherrard said staff who did not need to work from the library were encouraged to work from other locations, adding that the library monitored temperatures throughout the day.

Multiple staff members were stationed at the front desks Wednesday, near the fan.

“I wouldn’t be in here if I didn’t have this fan in front of me,” senior Jason Katz said.

Replacements to the library’s cooling machines were already planned as part of a $5.3 million upgrade of out-of-date systems on campus. Work was scheduled to finish at the end of 2013, with the buildings along the H Street block, which includes Gelman, first on the list to finish.

“The building is a little old – the cooling and heating unit is a little old, and stuff breaks sometimes whenever we have 90 degree weather in the spring,” Holley Matthews, a circulation manager at the library, said. She added that Gelman officials have updated staff frequently about the library’s operating status.

D.C. law does not require buildings to close due to high temperatures, but Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules recommend employers keep workplace temperatures between 68 and 76 degrees.

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