As the sun heats things up, county officials are finding ways to keep things cool. Two official cooling centers, available to everyone, opened in mid-May.
Margaret Raney enjoys three days a week at Grovetown's Bessie Thomas Community Center, one of Columbia County's two cooling-center sites.
Raney, 80, moved to Harlem about a year and a half ago. Since then she has found the Bessie Thomas Community Center is a pleasurable place to pass her summer weekdays - especially when it's hot.
"The temperature is very comfortable here," Raney said as she patiently worked on a jigsaw puzzle at the center. "And I like the people."
Pam Tucker, director of Columbia County's Emergency Management Agency, opened the cooling centers at Bessie Thomas and Patriots Park three years ago when she started working for the county.
A woman eating lunch at the Bessie Thomas Community Center watches the local
television weather forecast as warmer weather arrives.
Photo by Annette M. Drowlette
"The cooling centers attract mostly the elderly," Tucker said. "A person's natural ability to cool off deteriorates with age. We don't turn anyone away, though. Everybody is welcome."
Tucker adds that anyone without air conditioning can come to the cooling centers on especially hot days.
Columbia County residents benefited from a mild summer this year until a mild heat wave hit this past week and the heat index rose above 105 degrees.
Every year, the health department reports several injuries resulting from excessive heat. But since Columbia County opened the cooling centers, statistics of heat-related illnesses have improved, Tucker said.
The centers, which opened in mid-May, offer transportation through the county's Rural Transportation Department.
"They can call us a day in advance and we'll get them on the books and get them here," said Bessie Thomas center manager Jeff Asmann. "We'll make sure they get home, too."
Bessie Thomas, at 5913 Euchee Creek Drive, is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and offers a sitting room with a television, ice cream, ice water, and soft-drink and snack machines.
Patriots Park, at 5445 Columbia Road, is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 1 to 6 p.m. Sunday. A sitting room with a big-screen television and ice water is available.
Both centers are free.
Annie Turman of Martinez sits in the Bessie Thomas Community Center at noon enjoying the air conditioning. She is there every day for lunch.
Photo by Annette M. Drowlette
The cooling center at Bessie Thomas doubles as a senior center where anyone age 55 or over can eat a free lunch, play bingo Tuesday and Thursday mornings, participate in arts, crafts or ceramics and occasionally join in outings to the zoo, lake or beach.
"This is important because it gives people who have no means of transportation something to fall back on during hot days," Tucker said.
For more information, call the county EMA office at 868-3303.
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