Politics & Government

Overheated Kansas Insurance Department out of the office till Monday

After an air conditioning failure sent temperatures soaring inside its Topeka office building, the Kansas Department of Insurance has evacuated employees and closed down its office for the rest of the week.

“It’s over 90 degrees on our third floor,” Insurance Commissioner Vicki Schmidt said Thursday morning. “It was so bad in here yesterday people were sweating through their clothes.”

The air conditioning has been out since the beginning of the week, but the building was at least more-or-less habitable Monday and Tuesday, when outside temperatures were in the 60s and low 70s.

The department had to start sending people home on Wednesday, when the high reached 86. Thursday and Friday are expected to reach the mid-90s.

The employees couldn’t even open a window to catch a breeze. “We’re in a historic building and all of our windows are sealed shut” for safety reasons, Schmidt said.

The Insurance Department is housed in a stately brown-brick building a block west of the Statehouse. It was constructed in 1924 as the Topeka Woman’s Club and still retains some of the original stained glass windows and Tiffany lighting fixtures.

But because the building is so vintage, it will take four to six weeks to put in a new air conditioning system.

In the meanwhile, they’ll have to make do with a portable swamp cooling system that should be up and running in time to reopen the department on Monday morning, Schmidt said.

Contributing: Jonathan Shorman of The Eagle

Senior Journalist Dion Lefler has been providing award-winning coverage of local government, politics and business in Wichita for 20 years. Dion hails from Los Angeles, where he worked for the LA Daily News, the Pasadena Star-News and other papers. He’s a father of twins, director of lay servant ministries in the United Methodist Church and plays second base for the Old Cowtown vintage baseball team.