Off Limits

No-tell hotel.

No-tell hotel
To keep up with its trendy downtown neighbors, the posh but dated Warwick Hotel is undergoing a major renovation. By next spring, the Warwick, at 1776 Grant Street, is increasing the number of its guest rooms to more than 200; it's also adding meeting space, a fitness center, Internet connections and an executive lounge, and creating a French and American restaurant called the Margaux Brasserie and Bar of Denver -- all at a cost of about $14 million.

Make that $14.1 million.

On August 10, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined the Warwick $103,500 because it hadn't followed the proper procedures for handling asbestos and hadn't told its employees or the renovation subcontractors' employees that they were being exposed to asbestos. Herb Gibson, the compliance program manager for OSHA's Denver-area office, says his agency showed up at the hotel unannounced -- and without a reservation -- on February 10 after someone complained. OSHA, which is part of the U.S. Department of Labor, found ten "serious" and one "willful" violation of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

"We believe workers were potentially exposed to asbestos, but as far as a health hazard...we didn't issue a medical surveillance because none of the workers were exposed for more than thirty days," Gibson says.

In addition to the Warwick, six of the hotel's subcontractors were fined a total of $54,375: Talisman Renovation, Restoration and Design was nailed for $30,000; Grinnel Fire Protection Systems Company was burned for $12,500; two electric companies, Sturgeon Electric and Priority Electric, were shocked with $10,000 and $750, respectively; T's Plumbing and Heating was soaked for $750; and Synergy Mechanical Services was drilled for $375.

The majority of the employees who were exposed to the asbestos worked for one of the subcontractors, Gibson says. "Most of the issues have now been corrected. We can't really comment on the other specifics until the case is fully closed."

So far, none of the companies has formally filed an appeal, Gibson says, possibly because OSHA may settle with them so they don't have to pay the fines in their entirety, a course of action that Gibson defends. "Not every case can be taken to court," he says.

According to Warwick general manager, Rene Balin, the snafu was a misunderstanding about OSHA regulations. "We are in the process of resolving everything," he says, "and we are continuing our extensive renovations to follow the federal guidelines of OSHA. It was a matter of interpretation of the regulations. It was a minor situation. As far as the safety of employees and guests, everything is in perfect order."

That's a good thing, since it will take 896 of the hotel's $115-per-night "Summer Sizzler" packages to pay off this minor problem.

Suburban legend
We've heard lots of complaints that this has been one of Denver's muggiest summers ever -- some Denverites have even presented their frizzy hair as evidence. For example, the Convention and Visitors Bureau's Rich Grant testifies that he's always been able to tell when it's especially humid: "When it's dry, you can see my balding spot, but when it's humid, the hair bushes up and covers it. Normally when I go back to New York in the summer, my hair bushes up because it's more humid there, but this summer it was reversed."

Contrary to all the fuming we've overheard, however, this has not been an extra humid summer, and the supposedly increasing humidity has not been caused by new suburbanites watering their sprawl-induced bluegrass lawns. No, Denver is not fast on its way to becoming another Phoenix, where immigrants have supposedly altered the climate with their fountains, sprinklers and golf courses.

"We've had more rainfall; I think we were ranked number eight in terms of most rainfall for a month during July," says Frank Cooper, a meteorologist with Denver's office of the National Weather Service. But that, Cooper says, has nothing to do with human behavior: "All of this stuff is coming from the subtropical systems, not the local population."

Summertime humidities have been higher in the last few years than they were between 1950 and 1980, says Nolan Doesken, assistant state climatologist at Colorado State University's Colorado Climate Center. "But," he adds, "higher was like 1 or 2 percent higher" -- not exactly a number that would leave us gasping for some nice, dry oxygen. Doesken's efforts to get definitive readings have been foiled by human behavior in one regard, though: "The official humidity measuring station moved from Stapleton to DIA when DIA opened in '95, so we have what climatologists would call a discontinuity in the climate record, which makes it very difficult to analyze the data."

But Dr. Robert Balling has found a way to analyze it. As director of the office of climatology at Arizona State University, Balling says he's "made a fortune, in a way," out of studying growth in Phoenix and its impact on climate.

"I came here in 1984, and as I was driving here from Nebraska, I heard Paul Harvey talking about Phoenix and how it was growing, and one of the complaints was that humidity was going up," Balling says. "If you know urban climatology, the universal axiom is that cities grow and become drier. I thought I needed to leave a splash, so I started to look at urban-climate questions in Phoenix. Not to my surprise, but to the surprise of many people, Phoenix was getting drier.

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