Vashon HouseHold settles suit, repairs Eernisse

Carlos Romero from Aqueous Basement Solutions puts down a new vapor barrier in a crawlspace at Eernisse. - Leslie Brown/Staff Photo
Carlos Romero from Aqueous Basement Solutions puts down a new vapor barrier in a crawlspace at Eernisse.
— image credit: Leslie Brown/Staff Photo

After a lengthy legal battle, Vashon HouseHold is in the midst of a far-ranging set of repairs at Eernisse Apartments, where water was pooling in some of the crawlspaces and mold was growing on many of the subterranean pony walls.

The nonprofit organization and its main contractor, Triple D Construction of Bellevue, settled out of court earlier this fall, when Triple D and four of its subcontractors agreed to cover the costs of repairs at all seven buildings that make up the complex, said Chris Szala, Vashon HouseHold’s executive director. All told, the full fix at the $6 million project is expected to cost around $230,000, expenses that will be covered by the crews’ insurance companies.

The work is extensive, Szala said. The pony walls beneath each unit were removed, creating wide open crawlspaces with plenty of room for air circulation. New foam-based insulation and top-of-the-line vapor barriers have been put in each building’s crawlspace. Pipes that were cracked or not hooked up properly have been replaced. And each building now has a sump pump and dehumidifier in place to ensure crawlspaces remain dry, he said.

The materials used, Szala said, are state of the art, and the work carries a lifetime guarantee.

“The legal wheels grind slowly. But we got where we needed. And that’s absolutely fantastic,” Szala said.

Sue Gardner, Vashon House-Hold’s board chair, concurred.

“It was definitely a mess,” she said. “I saw the pictures. I saw the original reports. It was nasty stuff.”

But the fix, she said, will bring significant improvements to the complex.

“The residents are going to end up with a better building and a better environment,” she said.

Eernisse Apartments, a family-oriented housing complex that opened in 2007, stands as one of Vashon HouseHold’s crowning accomplishments. The seven buildings, painted in oranges, greens and browns, form a horseshoe around a densely vegetated wetland. Paths connect the homes, with plenty of areas for children to run. Front porches look out over the wetland.

Some of the units are below market rate; others are heavily subsidized. From the get-go, all 26 units have been fully occupied.

The discovery of water in the crawlspaces, however, created something of an ordeal for Vashon HouseHold, a small nonprofit. The water was first detected in January 2008, when a maintenance worker, concerned about a washing machine in the laundry room that vibrated too much, went into the crawlspace to see if he could make the floor more level.

The project was still under warranty by its contractor, and Sam Hendricks, the executive director at the time, had the firm return to fix problems that were causing the water intrusion.

In fall 2008, when the rains began to fall, Hendricks had his staff take a look to see if Triple D’s work had solved the problems. When staff discovered water again, Hendricks told the Beachcomber in 2009, he had Triple D return. Again, the company drained water; workers also painted fungicidal paint on the crawlspace walls where standing water had been discovered and mold was beginning to grow.

The situation escalated later that fall, when Vashon HouseHold staff discovered light mold growth in crawlspaces where no standing water had been found. “We realized the problem was more pervasive than we had thought,” Hendricks told The Beachcomber at the time.

Several residents voiced alarm over the mold — although testing in the units by an independent environmental assessment firm found no mold growth in the actual apartments. Residents of two units left the complex as a result.

Szala, hired to replace Hendricks after he stepped down in 2009, said it’s been a long and contentious process. The organization sued its contractor in June 2010, settling the dispute after months of legal wrangling in November.

“We pressed hard,” Szala said.

Barbara Brown, Vashon HouseHold’s property manager, said that she and others were deeply concerned about the problems and determined to see them fully addressed.

“It’s such a fine set of buildings,” she said. “And there are so many children. There was no question but that it was going to be correctly handled.”

Remediation work by Aqueous Basement Solutions started Nov. 1 and is now about two-thirds complete. The work has caused some disruption, according to some tenants, and when the insulation beneath their apartments was torn out, they could feel a chill through the ground-level floors. In those buildings where the work is complete, however, they say their apartments are now much warmer.

Doris Bosworth and Dorothy Jackson, twin sisters who are raising their teenage granddaughter, said they’ve been pleased by the progress. “They’re working very hard to fix the place,” Bosworth said.

Lisa Elliott, a single mother who moved to the apartment complex in August, concurred.

“I’d say Vashon HouseHold has handled their part of it quite well,” she said.

Szala said Vashon HouseHold plans to cover the increased cost in tenants’ heat bills; the organization will compare costs between last year and this year and cover the difference, he said.

The organization has had to cover other costs incurred during the legal dispute. All told, Szala said, Vashon HouseHold has spent around $50,000 on legal fees and temporary fixes; he expects the organization will spend a few thousand more covering tenants’ higher heating costs.

But that seems a small price to pay for a set of buildings that now appear to be in fine shape, he said. Brown agreed.

“It’s been a dark, little cloud over us for many years,” she said. “We’re just thrilled. This is the best conclusion we could have had.”


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