Saturday, May 2, 2015

Taxpayers Foot $49K Bill for Air Conditioning, 'Staging' for Obama's Town Hall in Jamaica

     When President Obama visited Jamaica in early April, he held a town hall meeting with "Young Leaders of the Americas" at University of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica. The president made remarks and took questions for only about 75 minutes in the Assembly Hall building on the Mona campus of the university, but the State Department issued four contracts totaling almost $50,000 for "staging" and the installation of generators and air conditioners.
    The initial "staging" contract was $39,935 with a followup change order for $3,675. The exact nature of the work is not spelled out, and the contractor is simply listed as "Miscellaneous Foreign Awardees." Photos of the event appear to show a low stage with several rows of seating on risers for selected representatives of the Young Leaders of the Americas and a row of flags from the nations represented at the meeting. Behind the stage, a high white wall was emblazoned with an official seal and draped with red, blue and gold bunting.
     There were also two contracts for the generators and air conditioners, one for $4,060 and another for $1,264. Temperatures in Kingston were in the 80s on the day of the president's visit. It is unclear if the building, Assembly Hall, is usually air conditioned. The university's website says the hall is the "main ceremonial venue" for the school, and is offered for rent on weekdays to outside groups for $50,000 and on weekends for $70,000. The website cooltechnologies.org says that the Mona campus underwent a "conversion of nearly 4,000 window, mini-split and central air conditioning units" to more efficient "hydrocarbon units" for "significant cost benefits", but does not specifically mention the Assembly Hall building.
     Just two days before his appearance in Jamaica, President Obama conducted a roundtable at the White House on the health effects of climate change and noted that certain health conditions are exacerbated by hotter temperatures, and this is a problem "particularly among the poor and minority populations who don’t always have easy access to air conditioning."
    There's no indication if the air conditioning installed for the town hall at the university was a temporary or permanent addition to the building at the university. The university did not respond to a request for further information.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

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