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Islanders cope with record heat wave

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

As the mercury hit 103 degrees around 2 p.m. on July 29, the fourth 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 arrived 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, stayed until after dusk. It was hard, King said, 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 were able to enjoy the lakeside breeze. Take the kids at last week’s Little Champs summer camp, for example.

The recreational sports camp, for 4- to 7-year-olds, took 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 was entirely outdoors. Children 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 made sure that the children were well hydrated and received 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.

Last week’s Little Champs sport was track and field. And despite the heat, all the regularly scheduled activities were still on.

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

Yet, the counselor said, the children hardly complained.

“They’ve been great. The kids are staying positive and still having a good time,” he said.

On Wednesday, when temperatures nudged past 103 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 had things a little easier. The Community Center at Mercer View was hosting two camps: the Nate Robinson basketball camp and Kamp Rock. Both camps were held inside, away from the blistering sun.

Parks and Recreation Superintendent Diane Mortenson said that all Islanders were 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.”

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

Meanwhile, in downtown Mercer Island, employees who worked in air-conditioned buildings had solace this week. Those who didn’t — well, it was tough.

With two giant ovens emitting heat at 500 degrees, the employees at Tony Maroni’s Pizza 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 set up several makeshift fans throughout the pizza kitchen. They also drank plenty of water and took breaks to cool off.

Yet perhaps the most unenviable job in town last week was outdoor construction.

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

“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 coped with the weather while welding at the construction site, Tompkins said, “Lots of fluids.”

His co-worker, Dan McKinzie, who was mixing and laying cement all day, explained that the sun actually made 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 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 ended at 3 p.m., the hour when temperatures tend to peak for the day.

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

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