VINDY EXCLUSIVE | 3 Y’town businesses still without A/C
By David Skolnick
and Justin Wier
A problem with a chiller at Youngstown Thermal has left three downtown businesses without air conditioning – and frustrated.
As of Tuesday, Johnson Controls was at Youngstown Thermal working to fix a problem with a rupture in a chiller line that occurred Sunday.
Initially there was a problem with a pump that froze Thursday after a three-day Ohio Edison power outage that impacted the west side of downtown, including Youngstown Thermal. That was fixed Friday evening.
“I feel terrible for the customers on the other end of the outage,” said Asim Z. Haque, chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, which is in regular contact with Reg Martin, Youngstown Thermal’s receiver. “The first issue has been fixed, and the second issue is being worked on. My hope is we’ll have cooling for the rest of the summer.”
Haque said Martin is running what was, before he was named receiver, “the worst-run utility” in the state and has done a good job.
Martin was appointed Youngstown Thermal’s receiver in August 2017 after the PUCO was informed by the company’s then-CEO Carl Avers that the business was in a financial struggle that could have caused an energy crisis in downtown.
Martin said the problem is “not a major issue” that will be repaired. There wouldn’t have been a problem if Ohio Edison didn’t have a power outage, he said.
The Vindicator, Home Savings Bank and the Youngstown Business Incubator receive cooling services from Youngstown Thermal.
Last summer, during a different outage, that group included DeYor Performing Arts Center. The center converted to its own system over the winter.
About 40 businesses use the company’s heating services.
Barb Ewing, CEO of the Youngstown Business Incubator, said she is very concerned about the situation.
“We obviously feel like it’s critical that we provide basic services to our portfolio companies, and we believe that includes air conditioning in the summer,” she said.
Her staff was making arrangements to bring in local air-conditioning units.
In theory, Ewing said steam systems such as Youngstown Thermal’s make sense for both economic and environmental reasons.
“We want to support the system, but we, like every other organization in the downtown, [we] have to evaluate the long-term ramifications of a system that is not yet stable,” Ewing said.
Kathy Bushway, spokeswoman for Home Savings, said the company has employed portable air-conditioning units, fans and even popsicles to keep things cool.
“We’re doing everything we can to keep our employees safe,” Bushway said.
About one-third of the building receives cooling from other means, but Bushway said two-thirds of the 12-story building have had to cope without air conditioning.
“We have not been given any good information about when it’s going to return to normal,” she said.