The conversion of a 100-plus-year-old Ohio jail into a modern record center and law library presented many challenges, but a big part of the solution was the incorporation of 10 dehumidifiers that used the facility’s existing cooling tower loop as a heat sink.
When it was initially built, the Wood County Jail in Bowling Green, OH was called "the most modern jail in Ohio." The native limestone structure was built in 1902 in the same Romanesque architectural style as the then relatively new courthouse to which it is attached. Today, the jail building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Community officials realized that the vacant and deteriorating jail offered re-use promise. "When we first decided to convert the old Wood County Jail, which was premium real estate space but not being utilized in any fashion, we realized there was a growing need for records retention and that we needed to keep them in-house close to the judges, elected officials, and the public who need them," said Bill L. Lorenzen, buildings and grounds maintenance superintendent for the Wood County Court House Complex.

Rehabbed for Records

The conversion from former jail to a modern, environmentally controlled record center, and law library offered challenges. "First and foremost, we needed to preserve the exterior of this beautiful historic building, which meant no louvers or attached air control equipment," said chief engineer on the project, James R. Lockard of HAWA Incorporated. "Moisture was the second issue. We needed to maintain proper humidity levels, while contending with three- to four-foot thick porous limestone walls."

To update the building and make it useful, the interior required total gutting. "We completely demolished the interior," Lorenzen said. "It had steel floors with concrete on top of the steel and steel prison bars welded to the steel substrate." Demolishing the interior meant starting at the top floor and working down to the ground. A 12-ft-by-12-ft access hole through the fourth floor was cut so that concrete, steel, and bars could be dropped down in dumbwaiters.

"It was quite a process - all the old, iron jail bars needed to be cut out manually," reported Lorenzen. "Plus, you couldn't start at the bottom, or it would have all caved in. We literally had to follow the opposite process in which it was originally built."

In rebuilding the interior, the former attic became a fourth floor law library. Historic Registry requirements dictated that window bars be retained, but that is about the only clue reflecting the building's past. The other floors are being used for record center offices and for floor-to-ceiling mobile shelving units for storing both microfilm and paper records dating back to 1820.

Sinking Interior Moisture

To ensure complete environmental control, a polymer vapor barrier was applied as a first line of defense against moisture. "Even with a vapor barrier, moisture will get in, so we needed a complete dehumidification system," said Lorenzen. The engineering firm recommended 10 Desert Aire refrigeration-based commercial dehumidifiers.

Local Desert Aire rep Jack Poe of HVAC Solutions, Co., assisted Lockard in selecting and sizing the company's WC Series dehumidifiers. Poe also recommended the units because they could use the facility's existing cooling tower loop as a heat sink, thus eliminating the need for remote condensers (RCs). This was an important since RCs would have required refrigeration piping to be routed to the dehumidifiers through the thick, limestone walls. Using the WC dehumidifiers not only reduced the need for additional equipment but also avoided extra work to bore through the limestone walls.

Beginning in March 2002, machine rooms holding the Desert Aire equipment were shoehorned into several places within the building, to avoid having a giant, centralized machine room. "We wanted to be conscious of the limited available space, so the Desert Aire units we selected were small foot print in one of three sizes - 3-ton, 5-ton, or 7.5-ton - depending on the moisture load, room size, and number of people likely to be in the area," said HAWA's Lockard.

In addition to the standard filters supplied on each dehumidifier, charcoal and high-efficiency HEPA filter units were also installed in the supply duct to further clean the air and eliminate any small bugs and mites that are known to feed on the leather binding of old archives. Nortec humidifiers were also incorporated into the supply duct to overcome dry winter air, which can be just as damaging as humidity is to the paper archives.

Within each room of the facility, the supply air was delivered up high, and return vents were installed low to maintain consistent air rotation. The tight environmental control has given an ornate, historic building a new and valuable purpose in the community. ES