Seeking the berth of the cool

Nothing too fancy, but county stations offer a break with air-conditioning, water

August 04, 2006|By ALIA MALIK | ALIA MALIK,SUN REPORTER

Around noon yesterday, while most of Anne Arundel County was shut up in air-conditioned homes and offices, Marty Bonifant braved the seven-minute walk from her home to the nearest post office.

She made it there, but the way back was tough going. Breathing hard and pouring sweat, the 41-year-old Edgewater resident stepped into the South County Senior Center and was promptly handed a cup of cold water.

"I know they'll invite anyone in and be kind to you and take care of you," Bonifant said of the senior center, relaxing visibly after every sip. "The Holy Spirit brought me in here. That's exactly what happened."

Bonifant didn't know that she had walked into one of the five senior centers that County Executive Janet S. Owens designated Tuesday, while record-breaking heat bore down on the region, as "cooling stations."

The goal was to serve people who don't have air conditioning or, like Bonifant, just need to duck into a cool place. All of the county's libraries were named cooling stations as well.

No preparations were necessary for these cooling stations: They just had to have water, air conditioning and bathrooms, Owens said yesterday.

"They're just strategically located all over the county, and the staff are trained to take care of people," Owens said.

She could recall only one other time the county took this step: in 2002, when temperatures last mirrored this week's string of 100-degree temperatures.

By 11 a.m. yesterday, it was already 92 with a heat index of 101 degrees, so a group of 16 kids ages 6 to 12 from the First Baptist Church Summer Education Program and their counselors bagged their planned trip to the playground and hit the Annapolis Area Library in shifts instead.

"We went to the farm this week and they experienced the heat, so I don't think they want to go back out," said counselor Danielle Crankfield. "The kids got to go on the Internet, which they didn't get to do otherwise, so it worked out."

Crankfield joined the ranks of those who found refuge from the heat in the library, which actually saw a slight drop in patrons this week, Branch manager Gloria Davis said. "It might be because of the temperatures that people aren't coming out more," Davis said.

Mountain Road Branch manager Jennifer Adams said that this week the Pasadena library was busiest Monday, the day before it was made a cooling station.

Of the library's traffic since Tuesday, Adams said, "I haven't really seen that big of an increase at our location. Who we see on a regular basis, on a daily basis, are pretty much the same people."

The West County Area Library in Odenton was busy, but librarian Stephanie Petruso attributed it to libraries' general popularity in the summer. "You can only do stuff in your home for a few days, and this is day three or four, and they're running out of things to do."

Those who stopped in at the South County Senior Center found it a perfect place to combat boredom.

"I can't do anything," said Edgewater resident Ray Palmer, 64, who has only fans in his house to keep him cool. "I go out for five minutes and I'm sweating like a bull. And I just had four bypasses and it's not good on them."

Still, the Edgewater senior center employees who had been so kind to Bonifant in her time of need reported that fewer people had been showing up for classes.

"We attribute it to the fact that they're staying at home, keeping out of the heat," said assistant director Jo Morris.

The county won't know how many people took advantage of cooling stations until the weekend, Owens said, but she has received notes thanking her for the announcement.

Although the heat wave is expected to break this weekend, the libraries and senior centers will always remain open to anyone who needs cool air and water, Owens said.

"It really is a question of reminding people of resources, ... and never to underestimate the impact of weather," she said.

alia.malik@baltsun.com

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