Cutbacks lead to warmer temperatures, less maintenance at Robins

wcrenshaw@macon.comJune 1, 2013 

WARNER ROBINS -- If furloughs didn’t do it, some planned spending cutbacks at Robins Air Force Base will make many employees a little hot.

To account for a $4 million funding cut for the 78th Civil Engineer Group, which handles base maintenance and manages energy usage, some fairly extreme measures are being taken to reduce costs.

Those include raising building thermostats from the Air Force prescribed 78 degrees, already on the warm side for many, to 80 degrees.

Also building and road maintenance will be cut back to only the most essential work, specifically that which impacts safety and the basic operational functioning. That means leaky faucets, missing ceiling tiles and minor potholes won’t be fixed.

Preventive maintenance such as changing air filters and belts in heating and air units will also be reduced.

Scott Hastings, 78th Civil Engineering Squadron director, said the cuts are directly related to sequestration, the automatic across-the-board cuts aimed at reducing the federal deficit. He said long-timers, including one who has been at the base for 59 years, agree it’s the most drastic cost-cutting they have experienced.

“Talking to the folks who have been here in the squadron, they have never seen anything like this,” he said.

Terry Landreth, the energy office supervisor, said base personnel have been made aware of the cuts and so far have been understanding, even at the prospect of working in an 80-degree office.

“Most of the people on the base, when you explain to people what you’ve got, they accept it and don’t give us a whole lot of grief,” he said.

Among areas off-limits to any skimping, Hastings said, is water treatment. The base plant provides about 2 million gallons of water per day, and that will go on as normal. Trash collection, grounds maintenance and janitorial services are contracted, and those will not be impacted.

Air filters would normally be changed in large heating and air units four times a year, and Hastings said that will now probably be done twice a year. Belts won’t be changed at all until they break.

Mike Speir, operations manager for Speir Heating & Air in Warner Robins, said skimping on changing air filters is not a good way to save money. A dirty filter, he said, will cause the unit to have to work harder to draw in the air it needs.

“It’s not a good idea to not maintain your equipment,” said Speir, who has 28 years experience in the business and is nationally certified. “You are actually going to be spending money.”

The problem with not replacing belts, he said, is that if one breaks, people in the building won’t have any air conditioning at all until someone can be dispatched to fix it.

Hastings said that while preventive maintenance is important, the money just isn’t there to do it. He and Landreth said they are hopeful the cuts will be only temporary and that kind of work can resume in a few months.

“We made the determination that if we can only do emergencies, then everything else has to go,” he said.

To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.

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