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Islanders escape, deal with sweltering heat

Island Books closed early on Wednesday and Thursday, July 29 and 30, due to the heat. The Island book store does not have air conditioning.  - Photo by Elizabeth Celms/Mercer Island Reporter
Island Books closed early on Wednesday and Thursday, July 29 and 30, due to the heat. The Island book store does not have air conditioning.
— image credit: Photo by Elizabeth Celms/Mercer Island Reporter

Nearly every retail store without air conditioning had at least one fan. Park fountains were splashing with children. The beaches — swarming with umbrellas. As for the sidewalks of downtown Mercer Island? Abandoned in their own emanating heat.

As the mercury hit 97 degrees around 3 p.m. on July 28, the third day in a week-long heat wave, Mercer Island's downtown streets were looking pretty empty. The beaches, however, were packed.

"We've been extremely busy, especially our waterfront property," said Mercerwood Shore Club office manager Joy King. "The kids have definitely been using the lake's swim dock. They're jumping into the lake, trying to stay cooled off."

Islanders have been arriving at the Shore Club as early as 9 a.m., when the pool opens. Those gathered at the beach, graced by a warm lakeside breeze, stay until after dusk. In recent nights, King said, it has been hard to convince members to leave by the club's 10 p.m. closing.

"By 10 o'clock, we're pushing people off the grounds. They definitely want to stay because it's so much cooler on the water," she said.

Yet not all Islanders are able to enjoy the lakeside breeze. Take the kids at this week's Little Champs summer camp, for example.

The recreational sports camp, for 4- to 7-year-olds, takes place the same week as Western Washington's record-breaking heat wave. Held at Islander Middle School from 9 a.m. to noon, the camp is entirely outdoors. Children have spent the hot days playing various outdoor sports, from soccer to track and field.

Little Champs coach Stephen Rencher said that he and his fellow counselors are making sure that the children are well hydrated and receive ample breaks in the shade.

"The weather's had us make a few small modifications. We have much more water on site — more water breaks for the kids, every 10 to 15 minutes, sitting in the shade," he said.

This week's Little Champs sport is track and field. And despite the heat, all the regularly scheduled activities are still on.

"Of course, the one running extensive week we have is during the heat wave," Rencher commented with an ironic laugh.

Yet so far, the counselor said, the children have hardly complained.

"They've been great. The kids are staying positive and still having a good time," he said.

On Wednesday, when temperatures were predicted to hit 100 degrees, the counselors brought out water guns, slip-and-slides and sprinklers for some fun.

"It's a chance to break up the track and field activities and cool off," Rencher said.

Other Mercer Island summer-campers have things a little easier. The Community Center at Mercer View is currently hosting two camps: the Nate Robinson basketball camp and Kamp Rock. Both camps are being held inside, away from the blistering sun.

Parks and Recreation Superintendent Diane Mortenson said that all Islanders are welcome to seek refuge at the air-conditioned Community Center.

"We're welcoming people to come inside and cool off," she said. "The gym gets a bit hot, but we rented industrial fans to help cool the kids off. It's just something to show that we get it."

Although the gym is "a bit crowded" with youth in the Nate Robinson camp, it is still open to the public. And there is plenty else to do at the Community Center, Mortenson pointed out.

Meanwhile, in downtown Mercer Island, employees who work in air-conditioned buildings have solace this week. Those who don't — well, it's been tough.

With two giant ovens emitting heat at 500 degrees, the employees at Tony Maroni's Pizza have had a sweaty week, to say the least.

"It's been pretty miserable in here," said Tony Maroni's manager Jory Cuttitte. "With the sun hitting our cinder block walls all day, it gets to be about 10 to 15 degrees hotter in here than outside."

The employees at Tony Maroni's have set up several makeshift fans throughout the pizza kitchen. They have also been drinking plenty of water and taking breaks to cool off.

Yet perhaps the most unenviable job in town this week is outdoor construction.

The team working on the 7800 Plaza Condo construction site have been laboring in mid-90-degree weather for three days straight now.

"This has been the hottest day I've worked in since last year," said McLean Iron Works employee Robert Tompkins on Tuesday.

Asked how he copes with the weather while welding at the construction site, Tompkins said, "Lots of fluids."

His co-worker, Dan McKinzie, who has been mixing and laying cement all day, explained that the sun actually makes his job harder.

"The heat sucks up the water quicker, so we have to work a lot faster," he said, pointing to a bucket full of drying cement.

But thanks to a considerate boss, the construction team has kept positive.

"Our boss has been really good to us. He's been bringing us cool drinks all day," McKinzie said.

Thankfully, the crew's work day ends at 3 p.m., the hour when temperatures tend to peak for the day.

"I'm going home soon," Tompkins said, wiping off a forehead of sweat with the back of his glove. Home to a cold shower and frosty beer. And then it's back to work the next day.

For information on how to keep cool in the heat, safety precautions and local resources, visit the city's Web site: www.mercergov.org.

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