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Senior centers double as 'cooling centers' for hot Pittsburgh days

| Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013, 12:02 a.m.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
A group of senior citizens keep out of the heat at the Magee Recreation Center Cooling Center in Greenfield on Friday August 30, 2013
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Regina Smith and Nick Kolesar keep out of the heat at the Magee Recreation Center Cooling Center in Greenfield on Friday August 30, 2013

This summer hasn't been an especially hot one in Pittsburgh, but the mayor's office isn't taking any chances.

Pittsburgh opens four “cooling centers” around the city every time the National Weather Service predicts the heat index — a measure of how hot it feels outside — will rise to 90 degrees or more.

The cooling centers are senior centers in Greenfield, Homewood, Sheridan and the South Side that are always open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. But when it's hot, the city invites seniors to stick around until 7 p.m. Refreshments are served.

“It's great that we have it to get out of the heat,” said Bill Matscherz, 70, of Troy Hill. “Plus, we save some money on food.”

Since May 30, the city has opened the cooling centers 21 times, including Saturday.

City parks official Dick Skrinjar said 1,191 people visited or remained in the senior centers between 4 and 7 p.m. during the first 18 times.

Skrinjar said it's about being safe rather than sorry.

He noted that a 1995 heat wave in Chicago killed about 750 people, mostly elderly and poor, over five days. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recorded 7,415 heat-related deaths from 1999 to 2010, the most recent data available.

“That's not a risk anyone wants to take in Pittsburgh,” Skrinjar said. Temperatures here were slightly above average — less than a degree — in June and July.

They are 1.2 degrees cooler this month.

Matscherz heads to the Greenfield center to play mah-jongg with friends when it gets hot.

“This is the only place in the city that plays mah-jongg,” Matscherz said.

Lottery proceeds pay to keep the senior centers open longer. Skrinjar estimated the bill at $3,300 for the 21 dates.

Lily Yee, 67, of Hazelwood, one of the mah-jongg players, said she's been coming to the Greenfield center for 10 years.

“We're like a cooling island,” she said, laughing. “We are mah-jongg-aholics, not alcoholics.”

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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