Apartments need repairs now, not later

A quarter of a million dollars will build a pretty nice home in Maine.

Four and a half million dollars should be more than enough to build a 20-unit apartment building for senior citizens, a building that is not only attractive but sound and durable.

Unfortunately, after only a year, the Birch Hill Apartments in Lewiston seem to be falling apart. Not only that, the units seem in some respects ill-designed to house the elderly at all.

A downtown neighborhood group blew the whistle on this project after residents began complaining of cracks in walls and air blowing through gaps around windows.

In one place, floor boards lift inside an apartment when a motorized wheelchair travels by in an adjacent hallway.

Among the puzzling design features is a bathroom fan and light controlled by a single switch.

When the light is flipped on for any reason, the ceiling fan is timed to run 20 minutes.

Go in to brush your teeth and the fan runs for 20 minutes, like it or not. Grab something from the medicine cabinet and the fan runs for another 20 minutes.

What's more, when residents try to take a shower, the fans sucks the warm air out and draws in cooler air.

Some shivering tenants have responded by showering in the dark, and others by hurriedly showering, drying and changing clothes in the shower stall before it cools off.

One elderly man has put a space heater in the bathroom, a possible safety hazard.

Residents are even more worried by cracks in walls, and doors that will not latch or shut, indications that the building is shifting or settling.

One residents questioned childproof wall outlets that require a twist of the wrist, and push-button lights that are difficult for those with arthritic hands to operate.

The residents appreciate the opportunity to live in a new building, despite its design flaws.

But taxpayers should not be as forgiving.

We have questioned the per-unit cost of elderly housing units being constructed in both Lewiston and Auburn.

Developers have explained that cleaning and outfitting old buildings is expensive, but it also helps maintain the traditional look of a community.

We get that.

But the Birch Street building is new construction, and it still cost an average of $224,000 per unit.

For that money, this should be a handsome building that not only anticipates the needs of the elderly but is built to last for many decades.

The building is owned by Coastal Enterprises Inc., a community development organization headquartered in Wiscasset. It is managed for CEI by Preservation Management Inc. of New England.

Contacted about Birch Hill, Preservation Management said it was unaware of problems.

"Any maintenance item that is brought to our attention is addressed very quickly," an official told the Sun Journal.

From what we saw, these are not maintenance issues, they are design and construction flaws.

As stewards of the public's money, CEI should act quickly to have an independent structural engineer determine what is wrong with this building and what it will take to fix it.

Then the architects and contractors should be accountable for fixing it.

If we don't act now, in 10 or 15 years we may be looking at an expensive, inefficient eyesore.

The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and editorial board.

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Dean Colwell's picture

Get All the Facts

In regards to the statements regarding the costs and issues in regards to affordable senior housing you should also reference the Maine State Housing Guide Lines which require the bathroom vents and the wiring configuration. In addition to the costs associated with the Maine Housing Guidelines, people should also pay close attention to the labor rates imposed by the state and/ or federal government. While we all deserve fair pay for a fair days work, the rates these projects include for field labor often exceed average pay of many jobs requiring higher education. Only pointing out the failure of one developer and implying that the developers are the issue is typical in politics today. Hopefully, our new state government will start reviewing all of these policies to improve the system for all which would include the quality of the structure as well as the costs of these projects as our aging state needs more efficient housing for all.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Another ghetto in the making.

Another ghetto in the making.

 's picture

So in 10 or 15 years we may

So in 10 or 15 years we may be looking at an eyesore? You mean like the rest of the neighborhood? That whole 50 square block area is a blight and an eyesore, but that is what you get when you import welfare dependent people with no expectations of life other than what can they get for free from the government. Take a nice (I use the term loosely) long walk up Walnut, Pine, Howard, Bates, Bartlett and Knox and the rest of the area. The majority of the people that live there don't care how they act, where they throw garbage or let their dog crap. It is almost seems like downtown Lewiston was designed by Hieronymus Bosch.

 's picture

No surprise

These "companies" like CEI, Preservation Management and many others large and small are just business standing at the corporate welfare trough waiting to get their bucks.
Look at any government funded project and you'll see the cost per unit, cost per square foot, or any other yardstick, is much higher than similar non government funded projects.
And it doesn't stop there! After the project is complete, the rents charged to occupy these over priced building is outrageous. Why? Because the property managers know that the government reimbursement rate is generally 50% over the going street rates. This in general is a waste of federal tax dollars, so our local officials will sit back and say it's all ok since the cash comes from the fed.
Dig deep Sun Journal, start taking a look at all the scores of state buildings that are under utilized, then look at how many new facilities have been built, or how many have been rehabbed using tax payer dollars. Then you'll see where all our state tax dollars are being wasted.
All the crying, pissing and moaning from our constantly campaigning government officials about the high cost of food stamp and other welfare programs is nothing but fluff that helps hide how the friends of government continue to ride a very posh gravy train to riches!


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