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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane cooling centers open more regularly, carry costs

Aug. 16, 2021 Updated Mon., Aug. 16, 2021 at 9:34 p.m.

Avery Williams, right, 20, who was visiting Spokane from Brentwood, TN, wipes his face down and drinks water with his sister Camille, 16, lower left, as they escape the heat with their mother Heather Brentwood, not pictured, on Tuesday, June 29, 2021, at a downtown cooling center in the same building as the Looff Carrousel in Spokane, Wash.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Avery Williams, right, 20, who was visiting Spokane from Brentwood, TN, wipes his face down and drinks water with his sister Camille, 16, lower left, as they escape the heat with their mother Heather Brentwood, not pictured, on Tuesday, June 29, 2021, at a downtown cooling center in the same building as the Looff Carrousel in Spokane, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

Sweltering summer temperatures and a new law passed by the Spokane City Council have forced the city to more than quadruple the number of times it opens cooling centers.

The Spokane City Council adjusted standards for emergency shelter in the wake of a deadly heat wave earlier this year, lowering the temperature at which the city must open cooling centers.

Now, the city must offer public cooling center space when the forecast high temperature is 95 degrees or higher on two consecutive days; previously, the threshold had been 100 degrees for three consecutive days.

The change has already had an effect, as the city has opened its cooling center at the Looff Carrousel on several occasions since the record-setting heat wave in late June and early July.

There have been 17 days in 2021 that meet the new standards to open a cooling center. Under the old rules, the city would have opened them only on four days, Jake Miller, a budget analyst with the city, explained to the Spokane City Council’s Urban Finance and Administration Committee on Monday.

Cooling centers require staff to manage them, and therefore cost money.

On Monday, the city introduced a request to withdraw $150,000 from its reserves to fund the cooling centers. The City Council is expected to vote on the request in the coming weeks.

“With the increase in the temperature this year, this funding will go toward the 13 extra days, essentially,” Miller told the City Council.

Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson celebrated the increased frequency of cooling center openings.

“It has been essential and I know the council is very supportive of those centers being available to our citizens,” Wilkerson said.

Tracking Spokane’s weather back through 2015, there were 50 days that met the threshold to open cooling centers under the new standards, but only four under the old threshold, according to Miller.

During hot weather, the city has opened the Looff Carrousel as a central cooling center, which is supplemented by branches of the Spokane Public Library.

The city must also operate a safe air center when the Air Quality Index is above 250, with the new law requiring that the center operate the entire day. That adjustment could have an impact as wildfire season continues.

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