December 13, 2012Guilford County government has a lot of strict rules and regulations against residents keeping rusty old cars in their front yards, and it has plenty of other ordinances restricting eyesores on private property however, the county itself is apparently under no such restraints.
Last Thursday, Dec. 6, Guilford County workers plopped a large, loud, ugly yellow generator crowned by an old rusty muffler at the northeast entrance of the governmental plaza in downtown Greensboro.
The county is in the process of moving its Information Services (IS) Department something that just about every other business and government in the world calls the information technology (IT) department to the fourth floor of the BB&T building at 201 W. Market St. in downtown Greensboro.
In order to provide backup power for the county's servers and other computer infrastructure, the county mounted the generator in a highly visible, much traveled spot right next to both the grassy lawn of the Old Guilford County Court House and the stage of Phill G. McDonald Plaza also known as the governmental plaza.
The large ugly yellow generator is also near the entrance of the county-owned BB&T building which houses a branch of that bank, the Guilford County Register of Deeds, the county's veterans affairs office, and, of course, the county IS Department.
Guilford County Register of Deeds Jeff Thigpen said that, on Dec. 6, he had to go to his office very early in the morning and, when he pulled in the parking lot, he wondered what was going on.
Thigpen said, "I came in at 5 in the morning and there was this huge giant truck, and I was saying, 'What in the world is this doing out here?'"
He said he had to be out of the office the rest of the day on Thursday, but he said that, on Friday, Dec. 7, when he arrived, he saw what all the commotion was about.
"I came in today and saw the generator and I was like, wow, OK," Thigpen said on that Friday.
In an email to The Rhinoceros Times, Thigpen added that he wanted to come clean about what was really going on. Thigpen, who was one of 15 department heads to recently get controversial raises that the county is calling "equity salary adjustments," wrote: "Actually it is providing power for a giant drill I'm using to break into the BB&T Building
if the equity adjustments don't work out."
On Friday afternoon, Dec. 7, county staff was running the generator presumably testing it out after the move and the noise could be heard across the street at The World Headquarters of The Rhinoceros Times.
For much of the day, the generator was covered with a blue tarp, and passers-by were looking up at the monstrosity in the middle of the public area with the same curiosity and fascination that the Neanderthals had when observing the monolith in the opening scene of 2001.
Thigpen said the giant generator happened to be right below his own office, but he hadn't yet been in his office while it was running, so he didn't know if it would be disruptive or not.
Guilford County Facilities Director Fred Jones said the generator has been in operation for years, but he said that, when it was at its former location the Bellemeade Center on 201 N. Eugene St. it was in a more out of the way spot.
"They moved it from Bellemeade where it was hidden by a wooden fence," Jones said.
Jones said an engineer had determined the best place to put the generator to backup the IS operations in the BB&T Building. According to Jones, in some cases, backup generators are put on the roof, but he said that due to the heavy vibration created by a generator of this size, it wasn't advisable to put it on top of the BB&T building.
Guilford County Property Management Director Sandy Woodard said the generator runs on diesel fuel. She said she didn't know the exact reason for the location chosen for it, but she said she knows there are concerns about transporting diesel fuel into and through a building.
Woodard added that the generator seemed larger out in the open in its new location than it did in its old one.
"It didn't look that big," she said.
She said that the IS Department's servers had to have backup power available because they control everything from county payroll to data services for the Sheriff's Department and the Emergency Services and those servers.
Greensboro Mayor Robbie Perkins was quick to point out that even though the generator is near city property, its placement there wasn't the city's doing.
"It's not a city generator," Perkins said. "The county can do what it wants."
The mayor said that wasn't the only case of a generator that he wished were more out of sight.
"It's unfortunate that these things are ugly and noisy and that they have to be started from time to time to test them out," Perkins said.
Perkins added that there are other office buildings in Greensboro that have this type of generator, but typically those generators are placed out of the way and fenced in, or other measures are taken to make them less visible.
"The reason you don't notice them more is because they hide them," Perkins said.
Thigpen, who couldn't stop laughing as he considered the implications of the new giant generator that's right out in front of his deeds office, said he was concerned that the security officer in the parking lot who sits a few feet away from it might be in danger of losing his hearing. But Thigpen also said county residents might now see more high-powered bands performing at the city's main plaza.
Thigpen added one more benefit to his list of possibilities.
"If the city ever loses power," he said, "there's going to be a party at the Register of Deeds office."