An attempted copper theft has damaged an air-conditioning unit at First Presbyterian Church of Lawrence and has left the church and preschool without cool air for most of Wednesday as the area was under a heat advisory.
“We’ve got fans running all over the building. As long as the air is moving it’s not very bad,” associate pastor Mary Newberg Gale said at 10:45 a.m. “This afternoon’s going to be a different story.”
She said staff members and teachers gave parents a choice Wednesday morning to pick their children up early from the preschool that ends normally at 11:30 a.m. at the church, 2415 Clinton Parkway. Only church staff members and possibly some teachers are scheduled to be in the building in the afternoon as the National Weather Service forecasts a high of 99 degrees with a heat index as high as 107.
Newberg Gale said the church is waiting to see if a contractor can repair the system and get the air running by Wednesday afternoon before deciding whether to call outside groups who are scheduled to use the church in the evening.
The church made a report with Lawrence police Tuesday evening after discovering the damage. Staff members noticed Tuesday afternoon how hot the building was getting. Newberg Gale said church leaders believe someone broke into an outside area either Sunday night or Monday morning where the chillers are kept and tried to steal copper piping. But church members believe when the apparent thief cut through two 3-inch pressurized pipes, Freon began leaking, and the suspect ran away. The system was large enough to keep working until it ran out of coolant some time Tuesday, Newberg Gale said.
A church staff member at 4:15 p.m. Wednesday said half of the system had been repaired, meaning preschool on Thursday would continue as normal. A crew would then continue trying to make repairs to the rest of the system Thursday afternoon, she said.
“It’s frustrating that we are dealing with this, and it’s also frustrating that someone thought this was what they needed to do,” Newberg Gale said Wednesday morning. “It’s sad that they felt this was their only option and that this was an option.”