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Greening up the library
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EAU CLAIRE — The upcoming $18.5 million renovation of L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library will grow its floor space for patrons, but the project will also dramatically cut down on its energy bills.

The Eau Claire library’s square footage is growing by about 8%, but an analysis done by Focus on Energy showed its power bills will shrink 62% through green design and energy-efficient systems included in the building project.

“That’s a big savings,” library Director Pamela Westby said. That amounts to projected savings of about $47,000 annually in the library’s utility bills, she noted.

A big part of the clean energy upgrades to the building is replacing its outdated heating and cooling equipment with a new geothermal system.

These systems tap into the consistent year-round temperature found under the earth’s surface — as opposed to a boiler for heat and air conditioner for cool air — to make the building comfortable for library users.

Geothermal systems still require some power to run their equipment, but the natural temperature found underground means they do not burn fossil fuels like a natural-gas furnace does.

These systems do come with significant up-front costs though, in particular the excavation for and installation of a series of buried pipes used to capture geothermal energy.

Ned Noel, senior city planner, said that due to the library’s limited amount of land, those loops of pipe will be installed vertically underneath the 400 block of Eau Claire Street. Those tubes are expected to reach a depth of 500 feet, he noted.

While the geothermal system has long been part of the project, both the city and library are looking to reduce the cost for it.

“This was considered from the beginning,” Noel said. “It’s going to happen. We’re just looking for additional funds to offset the cost.”

During its Tuesday afternoon meeting, the City Council will vote on allowing Noel to apply for a grant from a Wisconsin Public Service Commission program to pay $200,000 to $250,000 of the geothermal system’s cost.

The city hasn’t yet received price quotes for the system, but Noel said that grant might cover a third to a half of the costs.

But he also noted that the PSC’s Energy Innovation Grant Program is quite competitive and gets applications from other cities, school districts, businesses and tribal governments all seeking a piece of the $7 million available from it this year.

The city, which already contributed $11.5 million toward the library project, is committing $200,000 from a fund it created specifically for clean energy projects toward the geothermal system.

That fund is part of Eau Claire’s goal to have the city run entirely on clean energy by 2050, and public buildings are seen as an important starting point.

“Our aspiration is to try to make the building net zero energy,” Noel said of the library.

However, he notes that using geothermal energy for the building’s heating and cooling alone won’t reach that mark.

The library project’s design does have other features in it to help chip away at energy use and make the building more environmentally friendly.

Windows added to current building walls and incorporated into the new third floor are intended to maximize the amount of daylight that comes into it, reducing the amount of artificial light needed. The renovation project also includes lights that will shut off if sensors tell them that people are not actively using that part of the building.

While solar panels are not included in the renovation project to help with the building’s electrical needs, the third floor is designed to be prepared for them. Westby said solar panels were not included in the current project to keep it in its budget, but the library wanted to make that possible in the future.

Aside from lower monthly bills, the energy-saving design features also make the library qualify for a $53,700 incentive toward its building project from Focus on Energy.

In addition to being energy efficient, the project is also intended to make the building more ecological by adding plant life. Currently a tar-covered roof, the area that will become the terrace outside of the new third floor will include large planters and vegetation.

The library renovation and expansion project is scheduled to start in May and finish in fall 2022. During that time, the Eau Claire library will be temporarily located in a building with United Health, 2725 Mall Road, with storage in the former Pawn America, 2615 Mall Drive.

The library is in the process of raising $7 million out of the project’s $18.5 million budget. By the end of 2020, that ongoing fundraising campaign had secured about $4.1 million in donations.


UW-Eau Claire students Cassie Pierre, left and Ethan Newman play one-on-one hockey Friday at Demler Neighborhood Park on Putnam Street in Eau Claire. View more photos at LeaderTelegramPhotos.com.


Vaccine rollout confirms public health officials' complaints

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Public health officials have sounded the alarm for months, complaining that they do not have enough support or money to get COVID-19 vaccines quickly into arms. Now the slower-than-expected start to the largest vaccination effort in U.S. history is proving them right.

As they work to ramp up the shots, state and local public health departments across the U.S. cite a variety of obstacles, most notably a lack of leadership from the federal government. Many officials worry that they are losing precious time at the height of the pandemic, and the delays could cost lives.

States lament a lack of clarity on how many doses they will receive and when. They say more resources should have been devoted to education campaigns to ease concerns among people leery of getting the shots. And although the federal government recently approved $8.7 billion for the vaccine effort, it will take time to reach places that could have used the money months ago to prepare to deliver shots more efficiently.

Such complaints have become a common refrain in a nation where public health officials have been left largely on their own to solve complex problems.

“The recurring theme is the lack of a national strategy and the attempt to pass the buck down the line, lower and lower, until the poor people at the receiving end have nobody else that they can send the buck to,” said Gianfranco Pezzino, who was the public health officer in Shawnee County, Kansas, until retiring last month.

Operation Warp Speed, the federal vaccine program, had promised to distribute enough doses to immunize 20 million people in the U.S. in December. It missed that target, and as of Friday, about 6.6 million people had received their first shot. About 22 million doses have been delivered to states.

The American Hospital Association has estimated that 1.8 million people need to be vaccinated daily from Jan. 1 to May 31 to reach widespread immunity by the summer. The current pace is more than 1 million people per day below that.

President-elect Joe Biden on Friday called the rollout a “travesty,” noting the lack of a national plan to get doses into arms and reiterating his commitment to administer 100 million shots in his first 100 days. He has not shared details and was expected to discuss the effort this week. His office announced a plan to release most doses right away, rather than holding second doses in reserve, the more conservative approach taken by the Trump administration.

The Trump administration defined its primary role as developing coronavirus vaccines and delivering them to states, which would then take over and ensure that vaccine doses traveled “the last mile” into arms. Each state had to develop its own plan, including issuing guidelines for who gets vaccinated first. Several health experts complained about that approach, saying it led to confusion and a patchwork response.

“Let’s just say that I was disappointed how they handled testing, and the vaccine deployment has reminded me of how disappointed I was when they handled testing,” said Dr. Mysheika Roberts, health commissioner in Columbus, Ohio.

Several public health officials and experts say they believe some of the early glitches are being smoothing out. Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer for the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, said the slow start should not be surprising given the immense scale of the task.

“It was not going to be seamless,” he said.

Still, Plescia said the federal government could have done more ahead of the rollout — such as releasing billions of dollars earlier to help with staffing, technology and other operational needs.

An ongoing investigation by The Associated Press and Kaiser Health News detailed how state and local health departments have been underfunded for decades. Public health officials have warned since the spring that they lacked the staff, money and tools they needed to deploy a vaccine. The money was not approved until the end of December.

Vaccine distribution involves a long, complex chain of events. Every dose must be tracked. Providers need to know how much staffing they will need. Eligible people must be notified to schedule their shots, given the vaccine’s handling requirements and the need to observe people for 15 minutes after the shot — all while social distancing is observed.

It’s difficult to plan too far ahead because the number of doses the state receives can fluctuate. Hospitals cannot give all their workers shots on the same day because of possible side effects and staffing issues, so they must be spaced out.

Rhode Island health officials said it can take up to seven days to get doses out to people once they are received. Officials in several states, including Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and New Jersey, said the lack of supply is one of the biggest obstacles to getting more people vaccinated.

Some communities have seen large numbers of medical workers put off getting the shot, even though they are first in line. Columbus, Ohio, has had lower-than-expected demand among top priority groups, including emergency medical workers.

A public education campaign could have helped address the hesitancy among health care workers that has slowed the rollout of the first shots, said James Garrow, a spokesman for the Philadelphia health department. Instead, officials for months talked about the speed at which they were developing the vaccines — which did not help alleviate concerns that it might not be safe.

“There just hasn’t been good messaging about the safety and the purposefulness of the safety protocols,” Garrow said.

The federal government has done little to provide information resources that local officials can tailor to their own communities, to address concerns of people such as pregnant women or Black men living in rural areas, said Dr. Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease expert at the University of Minnesota, who is a member of Biden’s COVID-19 advisory board.

“You don’t need 50 different states trying to do this kind of work. What you want to have is a smorgasbord of information sources that address different populations that any one state can use,” Osterholm said. “That’s what we don’t have right now.”

Some states are getting creative. Oregon held a mass vaccination event at the state fairgrounds with the help of the National Guard. The governor said it aimed to vaccinate 250 people per hour. New Jersey planned to open six vaccine “megasites” where officials hope more than 2,000 people per day can eventually get their shots.

But without a federal plan, such efforts can amount to “throwing spaghetti at a wall to see what sticks,” said Chrissie Juliano of the Big Cities Health Coalition, which represents metropolitan health departments.

What’s needed is a national, wartime-type effort to get vaccines out to as many people as possible, multiple experts said. Medical emergencies can be covered 24 hours a day, seven days a week, said Pezzino, who is also a senior fellow at the Kansas Health Institute. Why not make vaccinations available on that schedule?

“It is possible. It is feasible,” he said. “I don’t see the level of urgency, the feeling of urgency in anybody around here. And that’s really, honestly, that’s the only thing that could make a difference.”


GOP senators urge Trump to resign; impeachment gains support

WASHINGTON — Two Republican senators now say President Donald Trump should resign in the wake of deadly riots at the Capitol and support for the House drive to impeach him a second time is gaining momentum.

Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey on Sunday joined Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski in calling for Trump to “resign and go away as soon as possible” after a violent mob of his supporters broke into the Capitol on Wednesday. Murkowski, who has long voiced her exasperation with Trump’s conduct in office, told the Anchorage Daily News on Friday that Trump simply “needs to get out.”

Toomey said even though he believes Trump committed impeachable offenses in encouraging loyalists in the Capitol siege, he did not think there was enough time for the impeachment process to play out. Resignation, Toomey said, was the “best path forward, the best way to get this person in the rearview mirror for us.”

The senator was not optimistic that Trump would step down before his term ends on Jan. 20.

House leaders, furious after the violent insurrection against them, appear determined to act despite the short timeline.

Late Saturday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., sent a letter to her colleagues reiterating that Trump must be held accountable. She told her caucus, now scattered across the country on a two-week recess, to “be prepared to return to Washington this week” but did not say outright that there would be a vote on impeachment.

“It is absolutely essential that those who perpetrated the assault on our democracy be held accountable,” Pelosi wrote. “There must be a recognition that this desecration was instigated by the President.”

Rep. Jim Clyburn, the third-ranking House Democrat, said “it may be Tuesday, Wednesday before the action is taken, but I think it will be taken this week.”

Clyburn, D-S.C., a close ally of President-elect Joe Biden, suggested that if the House does vote to impeach, Pelosi might hold the charges — known as articles of impeachment — until after Biden’s first 100 days in office. Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, has said an impeachment trial could not begin before Inauguration Day, Jan. 20.

“Let’s give president-elect Biden the 100 days he needs to get his agenda off and running,” Clyburn said. “And maybe we will send the articles some time after that.”

Clyburn said lawmakers “will take the vote that we should take in the House” and that Pelosi “will make the determination as when is the best time” to send them to the Senate.

Another idea being considered is to have a separate vote that would prevent Trump from ever holding office again. That could potentially only need a simple majority vote of 51 senators, unlike impeachment, in which two-thirds of the 100-member Senate must support a conviction.

Toomey indicated that he might support such a vote: “I think the president has disqualified himself from ever certainly serving in office again,” he said. “I don’t think he is electable in any way.”

The Senate is set to be split evenly at 50-50, but under Democratic control once Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and the two Democrats who won in Georgia’s Senate runoff last week are sworn in. Harris will be the Senate’s tie-breaking vote.

While many have criticized Trump, Republicans have said that impeachment would be divisive in a time of unity.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said that instead of coming together, Democrats want to “talk about ridiculous things like ‘Let’s impeach a president’ who isn’t even going to be in office in about nine days.” Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said Trump’s actions “were clearly reckless,” but “my personal view is that the president touched the hot stove on Wednesday and is unlikely to touch it again.”

Still, some Republicans might be supportive.

Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse said he would take a look at any articles that the House sends over. Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a frequent Trump critic, said he will “vote the right way” if the matter is put in front of him. But, he said, “I honestly don’t think impeachment is the smart move because I think it victimizes Donald Trump again.”

The Democratic effort to stamp Trump’s presidential record — for the second time and days before his term ends — with the indelible mark of impeachment once more has advanced rapidly since the riot at the Capitol. Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I, a leader of the House effort to draft impeachment articles accusing Trump of inciting insurrection, said Saturday that his group had grown to include 185 co-sponsors.

Lawmakers planned to formally introduce the proposal on Monday in the House, where articles of impeachment must originate.

The articles, if passed by the House, could then be transmitted to the Senate for a trial, with senators acting as jurors who would ultimately vote on whether to acquit or convict Trump. If convicted, Trump would be removed from office and succeeded by the vice president. It would be the first time a U.S. president has been impeached twice.

Potentially complicating Pelosi’s decision about impeachment is what it means for Biden and the beginning of his presidency. While reiterating that he has long viewed Trump as unfit for office, Biden on Friday sidestepped a question about impeachment, saying what Congress does “is for them to decide.”

A violent mob of Trump supporters overpowered police, broke through security lines and windows and rampaged through the Capitol on Wednesday, forcing lawmakers to scatter as they were putting the final, formal touches on Biden’s victory over Trump in the Electoral College.

The crowd surged to the domed symbol of American democracy following a rally near the White House, where Trump repeated his bogus claims that the election was stolen from him and urged his supporters to march in force toward the Capitol.

A Capitol Police officer died after he was hit in the head with a fire extinguisher as rioters descended on the building and many other officers were injured. A woman from California was shot to death by Capitol Police and three other people died after medical emergencies during the chaos.

Outrage over the attack and Trump’s role in egging it on capped a divisive, chaotic presidency like few others in the nation’s history.

Trump, has few fellow Republicans speaking out in his defense, and the White House declined to comment on the new GOP calls for resignation. He’s become increasingly isolated, holed up in the White House as he has been abandoned in the aftermath of the riot by many aides, leading Republicans and, so far, two Cabinet members — both women.

Toomey appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” and NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Clyburn was on “Fox News Sunday” and CNN. Kinzinger was on ABC’s “This Week,” Blunt was on CBS’ “Face the Nation” and Rubio was on Fox News Channel’s “Sunday Morning Futures.”


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