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Rikers Island Laundry Upgrade Pays Dividends For NYC (Part 1)

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Inmates load soiled goods into a conveyor that feeds the new Milnor tunnel washer in the Rikers Island laundry in New York. (Photos: Richard Merli)

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A staff of five oversees the Rikers laundry operations: (from left) Captain Estanislao Perez, Corrections Officer Dennis Phillips, Laundry Supervisor Darrell Jennings, Corrections Officer George Person, and Corrections Officer Michael Joyner.

Richard Merli |

EAST ELMHURST, N.Y. — A $5 million renovation of the on-premise laundry at the Rikers Island jail is rapidly producing dividends for the city of New York, not only by reducing energy and water consumption, but also by making the facility a resource.

Last October and November, after Hurricane Sandy devastated the New York City area, the laundry pitched in and processed thousands of pounds of linen and personal clothing for people in emergency shelters. It was the first time Rikers’ laundry was used to help in a citywide emergency, according to the New York City Department of Corrections.

The laundry produces approximately 2,000 pounds of clean goods per day, or about 500,000 pounds per year, including sheets, towels, washcloths, pillowcases, wool blankets and inmate jumpsuits, for the inmate population at Rikers and the city’s other jails. But the plant was designed with the capacity to process up to 3,600 pounds of laundry per hour. The expanded capacity enabled it to play an important role in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

“They’ve been incredibly successful to date,” says Ron Hirsch, president of Direct Machinery, the equipment distributor based in Hicksville, N.Y., which managed the renovation. “The project was predicated on energy and water savings. The savings have been beyond major in that area, but they also provided the city with tremendous support during the crisis. They were a huge asset to the city.”

The cornerstone of the project was the installation of a Milnor tunnel washing system. The PulseFlow tunnel washer uses, on average, 0.35 gallons of water per pound of soiled linen, compared to approximately 3 gallons of water per pound using washer-extractors. Plant management expects the new washing system will save approximately 2.3 million gallons of water annually.

Management also estimates the new equipment will save approximately $231,000 a year in gas and electric costs. Rikers operates its own power plant.

The majority of the project’s funding came from a $5 million American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grant, earmarked for the New York Power Authority (NYPA) and administered by the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS).

Installation of the tunnel system and new drying and ironing equipment has enabled the laundry to improve workflow and to minimize the handling of goods, according to Darrell Jennings, laundry superintendent at Rikers.

“With this system, we can tackle anything efficiently,” he says. “It’s a much faster process. We keep feeding the tunnel until all the work is done. There’s no waiting time or downtime. The production efficiencies in the new system are excellent.”

Check back Thursday for the conclusion!

About the author

Richard Merli

Richard Merli, who resides in Brooklyn, N.Y., is a former editor of American Laundry News.

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