AUBURN, Maine — Androscoggin County has an added reason to avoid jail: foul air.
One of two cooling compressors on the roof of the three-story county jail broke down two weeks ago. Since then, the jail has closed nonessential rooms and lightened the guards’ dress code, as the air outside continues to be steamy.
The problem is not the heat, county officials say. It’s the humidity.
“You go in there and the sweat just starts rolling off,” Chief Deputy Nelson Peters said. “It takes only a minute.”
At about 1 p.m Thursday, the temperature in the jail’s minimum security area was about 75 degrees. Yet, the air seemed heavy and stagnant.
Furniture felt sticky and the odors drifted between sour and rancid.
“The air is kind of skunky,” said Capt. John Lebel, the jail administrator.
And it may get worse.
Though repairs are planned, a new compressor will likely take at least two weeks to get here and be installed, Lebel said.
“It could be a lot longer,” he said. The state Board of Corrections has cleared the jail to make the needed $100,000 fix, which includes shipping the part from Dayton, Ohio.
For now, the air system is being powered by a machine that was installed when the jail was built in 1990.
“If that shuts down, we’re in serious trouble,” Sheriff Guy Desjardins said.
On the average day, the facility holds about 140 inmates and has about 20 corrections officers and support staff working at any one time.
Inmates will have to get by without special accommodations, Lebel said.
“It’s not the inmate population that I’m concerned about,” he said. Most of them are pretty idle. Rather, the guards are often moving and typically on their feet.
“They’ll go home tonight with their uniforms drenched,” Lebel said.
One rule is being eased, though. Beginning Friday, staff will be allowed to dress down with polo shirts instead of their button-down blue shirts.
“It will make it a little more comfortable for them,” Lebel said.
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