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Mayor, city engineer debate noise problem at City Hall

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A debate over a high-pitched sound permeating City Hall got a bit noisy Monday night.

Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham and City Engineer Kurt W. Hauk disagreed at Monday night’s City Council meeting about who should bear the blame for the noise problem, caused by new high-efficiency heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment installed last summer and turned on several weeks ago.

The mayor insisted the city should make sure that the responsible party should pay for whatever it costs to fix the problem, while Mr. Hauk contended that his focus should be correcting the high-pitched sound that some city employees have complained about in recent weeks.

“I just think we should get ahead of the curve on this one,” Mr. Graham said.

Mr. Hauk had no inkling the sound was going to occur until the chiller in the system used to cool off the building was tested in late April and the noise began soon afterward.

He said the culprit is a vibrating pipe that runs from the basement, where the chiller is located, to the roof.

The city purchased the chiller and other equipment from Maryland-based HVAC company Trane for $85,824, and paid Hyde-Stone Mechanical Contractors, 22962 Murrock Circle, $187,000 to install it. The Syracuse engineering firm Sack & Associates drew up the specs for the project.

Mr. Graham recommended that Mr. Hauk find out whether Sack & Associates, Trane or Hyde-Stone did something wrong, since the city was told that a building in Binghamton had the same kind of noise problem. The mayor wondered why the companies couldn’t avoid the same problem here.

But Mr. Hauk said he disagreed with the mayor, concluding that the noise problems are not covered by the warranty because the equipment works correctly.

“I don’t think it’s as cut and dried as the mayor sees it,” Mr. Hauk said, adding that he plans to continue to look at ways of fixing the problem.

Mr. Hauk said he talked to the engineering firm about the problem earlier Monday. He found out that wrapping the vibrating pipe with thermal wrap, using spring-loaded hangers to support the pipe and cutting down the vibrating in the chiller may be solutions.

City employees have described the noise as being worse in a second-floor office, in a nearby women’s restroom and in the city clerk’s office. It was so loud in the City Hall lobby that Mr. Hauk recorded it Friday at 70 decibels, the same level as a vacuum cleaner.

The subject came up Monday night when council members considered giving Hyde-Stone a $473,000 contract for an HVAC project at the city’s wastewater treatment plant. The council delayed taking action two weeks ago because of what was happening at City Hall.

In the end, members approved the contract with Hyde-Stone on Monday night.

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