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Published: Wednesday, 12/4/2013 - Updated: 8 months ago

150 returning to evacuated apartments

8th-floor sprinkler malfunction led to flooding of Alpha Towers

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Grasela Garcia, a resident at Alpha Towers near downtown Toledo, waits near the lobby during an evacuation after a malfunction triggered the fire-suppression system throughout the building. Grasela Garcia, a resident at Alpha Towers near downtown Toledo, waits near the lobby during an evacuation after a malfunction triggered the fire-suppression system throughout the building.
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Now that more than 150 displaced people, many of them senior citizens, are in various stages of returning to their apartments in central Toledo’s Alpha Towers, questions remain over the future of the aging, nine-story structure that receives payments via a federal voucher system and has been the subject of multiple complaints.

Apparent Councilman-elect Larry Sykes vowed during his campaign to do what he can to improve conditions at Alpha Towers and the Greenbelt Place apartments. Council and the mayor’s office will get a new look after the holidays when newly elected councilmen and Mayor-elect D. Michael Collins take office.

Diana Patton, general counsel for the Toledo Fair Housing Center, said she is awaiting results of a U.S. Housing and Urban Development inspection that centered on the reliability of the building’s two elevators and complaints of bed bugs.

“Now that Alpha Towers is vacated, the owners should take proper measures to ensure that the building is fumigated for bed bugs and that both elevators are operational before residents are moved back in,” Michael P. Marsh, the center’s president and chief executive officer, said.

The nearly full, 165-unit Alpha Towers at 525 E. Woodruff Ave. was issued an impromptu evacuation order Monday night after an indoor sprinkler head on the east side of the eighth floor popped off and allowed water to flood all levels but the ninth floor. The water damaged an electrical service panel, creating another hazard.

Milton E. Pommeranz, a Toledo attorney representing the management company, the Donaldson Group of Rockville, Md., said Tuesday that portions of the building’s west side — which sustained the least damage — had just been approved for re-occupancy by an inspector. That information was inspector. That information was conveyed to him by Sharon Hawkshawe, regional property manager, he said.

Amanda Aldrich, Red Cross spokesman, said nine residents were allowed back into their apartments Tuesday night. The Red Cross had set up a shelter at the UAW Local 12 union hall on Ashland Avenue to house 53 of the displaced residents Monday night. That shelter closed Tuesday after more comfortable accommodations were found, Ms. Aldrich said.

Twenty-three were relocated to area motels, she said. Ms. Aldrich said it was not clear who was paying the motel tab.

Ms. Hawkshawe said the management company had discussed paying those bills.

Ms. Hawkshawe and the company’s attorney said the Donaldson Group was responding the best it could to meet the needs of residents, both with the latest incident and in resolving prior issues.

“We’re just moving as fast as we can. This is a wait-and-see game,” Ms. Hawkshawe said.

Mayor Mike Bell’s spokesman, Jennifer Sorgenfrei, said an undetermined number of residents who live in the building’s east side are likely to be displaced for days because of water damage.

Ms. Sorgenfrei said the Donaldson Group has been cooperative with the city’s emergency response team, which was assembled after complaints about the sprinkler got to city hall Monday.

The Donaldson Group has been more responsive to addressing past issues than some other companies, Ms. Sorgenfrei said.

The unexpected evacuation, though, left some residents distressed.

Arthur Fowler, 47, said his first priority was his grandmother, Annabelle Hall, who is 97 and uses a wheelchair. He said he has lived with her in Alpha Towers for a decade. “I’m worried about her right now,” he said.

“This building is terrible,” one of the younger residents, Donetta Hayes, 24, said. “I never knew [about] bed bugs until I moved to this place, and they’re still here.”

Mr. Pommeranz said the management company has paid a pest-control company to fumigate apartments that had bugs, and the exterminator has been returning.

Ms. Hayes said water from the malfunctioning sprinkler made the interior so damp and humid that paint ran and walls warped.

Mr. Pommeranz said the company considers the broken sprinkler a fluke, not a symptom of larger problems. He said the sprinkler system was inspected by the fire department in August.

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com or 419-724-6079.



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