MOUNT VERNON — After 27 years of hard use, the heating and lighting systems in the Knox County Highway Department Garage are failing. That’s the word given to the Knox County Commissioners Thursday afternoon, who visited the garage to meet with Assistant to the County Engineer Larry Bechtel, Office Superintendent Chris Horton and Road Superintendent Dave Feasel.
“We’re heading into the winter season and we’re without heat,” Horton said. The garage’s different sections are all heated by a vacuum tube radiant system. Horton said that of the system’s original 25 burners, less than half still work, and he’s afraid to run them at full power, as they might burn out, too.
Horton said that the cost to repair or replace the system is significant, likely running around $100,000, but that modern equipment efficiencies might help control gas heating bills in the winter, which can run as high as $3,000 per month. Horton said that he wanted to present these issues to the commissioners because it wasn’t clear to him whose responsibility county garage maintenance falls under, plus he wanted help and input on who should be brought in to evaluate the building’s needs.
Commissioner Allen Stockberger said that the board was awaiting a clarification from Assistant County Prosecutor Charles McConville to advise them of where exactly the matter of maintenance should fall. Stockberger said that the Ohio Revised Code required the commissioners to hold the deed and to serve as fiduciary agents, but that the responsibility for maintenance is thought to fall under the tenant’s umbrella, which would be the Knox County Engineer’s Office. Stockberger quickly added, though, that even if this is the case, he wasn’t saying that the commissioners wouldn’t help. He cited a number of projects in the past where the county had assisted the engineer’s office on particular projects. He did point out, though, that times are economically tough.
Horton said that his big concern was having 28 employees coming in to work this winter without adequate heat. He pointed out that drivers can turn down overtime if they can’t stand to work in the cold any longer, something which Horton said started happening last winter as the heater failures became more widespread.
Road Superintendent Feasel pointed out that when outside temperatures get down into the subzero range, it can be very difficult to get diesel trucks started if the garage isn’t heated, considering that about half of the county’s trucks do not have plug-ins for engine warmers. Commissioner Robert Wise said that it would be a challenge getting trucks thawed and stripped of ice after runs if the heat isn’t sufficient in the garage.
Horton added that lights were becoming an issue as well, as the old sodium vapor lights are failing, and replacement parts are no longer available. He took the commissioners over to the wall where snowplows are attached to trucks in the winter. Thanks to the dim lighting, it was difficult to see.
“It’s a safety issue,” Bechtel said. He said that the size of the project to replace or repair the heating and lighting systems would require a bidding process, which in itself requires architectural specs. The commissioners said that they would notify the engineer’s office after they receive clarification from McConville about whose jurisdiction covers building maintenance.