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Housing complex fails inspection

Federal review cites crumbling walkways, broken door latches at Cole Manor.

The Springfield Metropolitan Housing Authority has received an initial failing grade on one of its building inspections, but it has appealed the score.

The 152-unit Cole Manor received a failing score of 59, and the inspection pointed to issues such as crumbling walkways, deteriorating walls and broken door latches. A grade of 60 is needed to pass.

The inspection of the complex, which is located at 315 S. Burnett Road and has had safety concerns with failing concrete for about six years, was performed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Real Estate Assessment Center in October.

Renovations ongoing at the time of the inspection were factored into the decision and the scores won’t be finalized until later this year.

The initial failing grade surprised Par Tolliver, SMHA’s executive director.

“We were really banking on (Cole Manor) to do well,” Tolliver said. “As we’re in the process of trying to change things around here, I guess we were hoping they’d take that into consideration. Next year, we’re looking for a lot of these things being taken care of to help our score out tremendously.”

The housing authority also scored a 70 out of 100 on its last Public Housing Assessment System overall report, which resulted in a “substandard” financial designation.

Cole Manor is nearly 45 years old and houses about 170 residents.

The ongoing renovations there included work on the doors to all nine floors and the outdoor walkways that lead to the apartments.

“The big thing was the doors,” Cole Manor Manager Andrea Fleischman said. “We’re waiting on a response from HUD as to whether we can get those points back or not.”

Thomas Leach, the director of the HUD field office in Columbus, said he doesn’t have any update on the appeal process. Inspectors grade each complex based on a random sampling of the units, not the entire complex. While the inspections are quantitative, Leach said, “no two inspectors are exactly alike.”

“There are some variations there,” Leach said.

If Cole Manor retains its failing grade, he said SMHA will be given reasonable time to make repairs.

“HUD expects all the items will be corrected,” Leach said.

According to inspection reports, Grayhill Apartments, 220 N. Montgomery Ave., received a passing inspection score of 85. Henry-Sherman Homes — which includes Sherman Court, Robert C. Henry Homes and other scattered sites — received a passing score of 61.

SMHA provides 640 units for more than 1,000 people throughout Springfield. They’re funded through HUD, which distributes housing assistance for the federal government.

Tolliver said the goal is always to make sure the housing units are safe and appeal to residents.

“We want the curb appeal to be where people are happy to live where they’re living,” Tolliver said.

Last July, SMHA leaders said it could spend up to $1 million renovating Cole Manor. The first phase, a $250,000 project to repair concrete on the walkways and ceilings, was planned last fall but bids came back over budget twice, according to Cindy Hunter, SMHA’s director of modernization.

The Springfield housing authority asked HUD for advice, and it recommended hiring an architect for the project. The housing authority will issue a request for proposals for an architect next month.

The organization is still planning to renovate the building, which has had areas fenced off in the front and the rear since 2006 because of safety concerns stemming from concrete problems on the exposed walkways and ceilings.

“Even if we have to do it two floors at a time,” Hunter said. “It’s going to happen.”

In 2010, SMHA spent $474,000 updating the first floor of Cole Manor, which included a revamped community room, library, kitchen and restrooms.

Cole Manor is at a disadvantage, both Tolliver and Hunter said, because the open walkways make it less suitable for the climate in Ohio. The weather issues play a factor in the cost of renovating the building.

“It’s for Florida,” Tolliver said. “It’s not exactly for Springfield, where our climate goes up and down.”

Hunter also said the housing authority wants to put up a wall to enclose the walkways in the near future. SMHA did a similar project at Hugh Taylor Apartments in 2007.

“We need to decide what we want to do that’s going to fit the needs of the residents, but also meet our needs as well,” Tolliver said.

Ricki Clay, the president of the Cole Manor Resident Council, said he’s excited to see possible renovations to the building.

“I’m looking forward to them,” Clay said. “We just have to wait and see. I think it would a great improvement to the place. It’s just getting started on it.”

Clay said he doesn’t have issues with snow or ice on the dilapidated walkways in the winter and that staff members typically clear them off well, but said some of the disabled residents do have problems.

Recent additions like the installation of 30 security cameras and new doors leading to the elevator have been a welcome change.

“(The doors) was a big issue,” Clay said. “They were slamming because of the wind. It’s like a tunnel. The new doors knocked out a lot of the noise.”

SMHA expects to have less funding this year due to the pending budget talks by the federal government.

“HUD is trying to brace us,” Tolliver said. “They don’t know what they’re going to be hit with, which is trickling down from everybody else.”

Leach said improvements have been made within the organization at SMHA and he expects it to continue in the future.

“I’m very impressed that SMHA has done a lot to turn around their operations and their buildings,” Leach said.

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