BRADENTON — The first time it rained after he bought a Mainstreet at Bradenton condominium unit in 2004, Isaac Howard noticed something odd.
“Water was coming through the walls, like a waterfall,” he said Monday. “And I was inside the unit.”
Now he and other owners and residents wonder when, if ever, the 36-unit building at 210 Third St. W. will be deemed safe enough for them to move back in.
City building and fire officials have ordered a mandatory evacuation, giving residents until midnight Friday to vacate the building. Officials said water intrusion has caused so much damage that the building’s structural integrity is in doubt.
Four days after the order was issued, residents are complying but remain critical of the city. They questioned why the city is making them leave now when it has long known about the building’s structural problems and their attempts to fix them.
“If they’re telling us this building is this bad and this dangerous, they should have told us months ago” to leave, said Denise Fedorenchik, president of the condo association.
City officials say they didn’t learn of the problem until late June. They defended the evacuation order, saying it was a last resort necessary to protect residents after talks with them failed to resolve the matter.
“This issue has bothered us from the beginning because we understand the hardship this can have but we also understand that building, at any time, could have a serious problem,” said William Whitelock, the city’s building official.
The five-story condo building was built in 2003 by Mainstreet at Bradenton LLC, a subsidiary of Atlanta developer Hatfield Development Co. Inc. The developer hired Thomason-Stevens LLC and The Morganti Group Inc. as general contractors to construct the building as well as seven others that are now part of 210 Watermark, an apartment complex.
Ken Langston, the city’s fire marshal, said city officials have not received any similar reports of water damage at the 216-unit apartment complex. Calls to Zom Residential Services, the complex’s property manager, were not immediately returned Monday.
Not long after the Mainstreet building was completed, residents said they began noticing leaks and other signs of water intrusion throughout the building. Those problems continued after the developer turned the building over to residents in 2004.
In 2006, residents hired an engineering and construction consultant to assess the building’s condition. The consultant found, among other things, little or no waterproofing of exterior stucco walls; improperly installed windows; rusted fire sprinklers; and signs of inadequate waterproof sealant around windows, doors and support columns.
Residents then sued the developer, the general contractors, the building’s architect and its engineers in 2007, accusing them of negligence and defective work. The developer blamed the general contractors, who in turn blamed various subcontractors, according to court records.
Darren Inverso, the association’s attorney, said his client since has reached confidential monetary settlements with the developer; the general contractors; architect Jim Etter Parker of Parker Associates in Tulsa, Okla.; structural engineer Mervin Leroy Snowden of Snowden Engineering Inc. in Tulsa; and John Dean Truskett of Engineering Design Associates in Tulsa, the building’s mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineer.
The association now is pursuing its case against Da Pau Enterprises Inc., an Orlando firm that applied the stucco; and Nodarse & Associates, the engineering firm that inspected the building while it was being constructed, Inverso said.
The firm did the inspections because state law prohibits cities from doing construction inspections of buildings that are four or more stories tall, Whitelock said. He and Langston said they were unaware of the lawsuit until last week.
They said city officials also did not know of the building’s structural problems until a routine June 23 inspection of a stairwell that was closed for repairs. During that inspection, officials discovered “significant” rotting of the wood-frame stairwell and building and ordered the association to post a fire watch, Whitelock said. The association hired a private security firm to monitor the building for possible fires.
The stairwell was part of the association’s $1.6 million repair effort, funded primarily through the court settlements, that already had replaced most of the fire sprinkler system, Inverso said. Other work that was to be done included restoring a second stairwell, removing and repairing wood framing and sheathing and replacing windows.
“We were making these repairs when the city came in and claimed they were never told,” Fedorenchik said. “Whose fault is that? Are they trying to make up for lost time?”
City officials said they had numerous meetings with residents, their contractor and attorney in hopes of reaching a repair schedule that would allow residents to remain. They also said they repeatedly said that an evacuation order was a possibility. “They were advised of that many times,” Whitelock said.
Officials decided to act after they said residents failed to produce a satisfactory repair schedule during a Aug. 3 meeting. Inverso disputed that, saying the association presented an 18-month schedule that would have allowed the building to remain occupied.
The evacuation order also stopped work on the closed stairwell and indefinitely delayed the start of repairs on the second one, he said. Had the order not been issued, both stairwells would have been fixed by the end of next week, he said.