Residents of housing authority complex worry about buildings with crumbling corners

bfortune@herald-leader.comJuly 25, 2012 

In the winter, Rose Faulkner put duct tape around the baseboard in her bedroom in the Pimlico Apartments to keep the cold air from coming in. Around the windows there was always a draft.

That was before the manager of the apartment complex moved her from her corner apartment six months ago into another unit. "The maintenance people said it was hazardous to stay in that end of the building," Faulkner said.

She lived in a unit where the bricks were coming loose from the corner of the building.

The corners of five buildings in the Pimlico complex are being held up with wooden supports, kept in place by two-by-fours propped against the sides of the buildings. That has caused some residents to question the structural integrity of the apartment complex at 1317 Centre Parkway, which is owned by the Lexington Housing Authority.

"People wonder if the buildings are safe because the foundations are sinking," said Normandy Mundy, who lives in a building where the corner is shored up. "Also, skunks get under the building, and the smell is something awful."

Housing Authority officials said structural engineers had determined the buildings were safe. But tenants in the corner apartments where the problems are occurring have all been moved.

During the past year, brick has loosened at the corners of five buildings, and cracks in mortar joints have appeared. Twenty families were relocated to new quarters.

Structural engineers from S&ME Inc. were hired by the Housing Authority to evaluate the buildings. The firm's final report is due the first week of August, Barry Holmes, chief operating officer of the Housing Authority, said Wednesday.

Some residents asked why the city did not inspect the buildings to determine their structural safety.

"The Housing Authority has their own inspectors, and they're federally owned property," said David Jarvis, the city's director of code enforcement. "We're a local jurisdiction and we don't have any authority over federally owned property.

"If there's a safety issue, yes, we can intervene with the fire department. But they've had structural engineer reports. They deemed the buildings safe from structural engineer reports, and we just have no jurisdiction."

Sherman Carter Barnhart, an architectural and civil engineering firm, has been hired to examine the future of the complex. That includes whether it is worth making repairs and how much that work would cost, or, in a worst-case scenario, whether all the buildings should be razed and new ones built.

Holmes said corners were shored up to prevent more cracks. "We can't leave the shoring material up there long-term," he said.

Building permits for the complex of 12 buildings, with 206 units, were issued in 1975 and 1976, according to property valuation administration records. It was completed in 1977.

The Housing Authority bought the property in 1978.

Inside the apartments, evidence of problems was minimal, Holmes said. "But we want to err on the side of caution."

Most tenants had children in school and wanted to stay in the Pimlico complex, he said. A few were moved to other locations. All families were moved at no expense to themselves, said Greg LaRue, manager of Pimlico Apartments.

Holmes said preliminary findings from the structural engineers indicated that not all the bricks were attached correctly to the buildings with brick ties. "There are no brick ties evident at the corners. On other parts of the building, the brick had ties, and the correct number," he said.

As problems turned up in more buildings during the past year, the structural engineers did borings around each building and then over the entire 13-acre site to determine the underlying soil structure.

A first set of borings in 2011 found the buildings were constructed on "high plasticity clay" that shrinks and expands with moisture content in the soil, Holmes said.

"The clay is settling. That was one finding," he said. "What we don't know is if the site was properly excavated and a gravel base laid before the buildings were built, or if they were just built on dirt."

Beverly Fortune: (859) 231-3251. Twitter: @BFortune2010.

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