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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Construction problems plague Kingsport HOPE VI homes at Sherwood-Hiwassee

KHRA selected Cornerstone Housing of Maryland to be the developer, and Cornerstone selected Walker Construction of Chattanooga to perform the work.

HOPE VI is building new homes in the Riverview Community right now



KINGSPORT — A number of problems have been discovered at the new HOPE VI houses built along Sherwood and Hiwassee, including drainage problems, poor masonry work, and cracked concrete in the driveways, walkways and steps.
Kingsport Housing and Redevelopment Authority officials say all of the problems will be addressed and are asking residents for patience during the upcoming repair process.

David Grace —
Problems with drainage, poor masonry work and cracked concrete have been discovered in some of the new HOPE VI houses along Sherwood and Hiwassee.
More than three years ago, Kingsport received an $11.9 million HOPE VI revitalization grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for the redevelopment of two distressed city neighborhoods. Phase one of the project replaced 29 houses along Sherwood and Hiwassee with 24 new, affordable homes. The second phase calls for 32 rental houses and duplexes built on the old Riverview Apartments site, with six additional houses built in the Riverview community.
The Sherwood/Hiwassee homes were finished this past spring. The KHRA has contracts on all of them, and 15 are occupied. A groundbreaking for the Riverview phase was held in October, with the homes slated to be built by December 2010.
In order to build the homes along Sher- wood/Hiwassee, the KHRA selected Cornerstone Housing of Maryland to be the developer; Cornerstone in turn selected Walker Construction of Chattanooga to perform the work.
According to KHRA officials, back in the spring Cornerstone discovered Walker had not installed any flashing in any of the 24 houses, as per the requirements of the project. Flashing is a weatherproofing product — in this case a metal lining along the base of the house between the foundation and the brick used to divert water.
“The flashing was supposed to be installed, even though it is not required by code,” said Doris Ladd, HOPE VI director for the KHRA. “We approached Walker for rectification, and when (Brent Walker) indicated he wasn’t going to complete that, Cornerstone brought in people to remove a portion of the brick and reinstall (the flashing).”
Soon after, Cornerstone terminated the contract with Walker.
“The contractor should be expected to come in and make those kinds of repairs,” said Terry Cunningham, KHRA director.
During the process of correcting the flashing issue, a large sample of the brick was removed from one of the houses, about three or four rows. Cunningham said Cornerstone discovered the masonry work was not according to specification (insufficient ties) and there were problems with the concrete — the driveways, walkways and steps had cracks in them.
“Someone wasn’t very careful when they used heavy equipment on some of (the driveways),” Ladd said.
The brick used on the houses is no longer manufactured, and Ladd said Cornerstone has agreed to re-brick all 24 houses.
The bonding company has selected Landmark Construction of Johnson City to re-mediate the houses and to complete the various “punch list” items Walker did not complete as well.
Ladd said Landmark is expected to be on site Monday, with work starting soon after. Cunningham said the amount of money to fix the problems would be “significant” but that there would be no cost to the city or KHRA.
Kirk Gray, Cornerstone’s point man on the project, did not return phone calls and e-mails this week seeking comment.
Brent Walker, one of the owners of Walker Construction, said he stopped working on the project in July when Cornerstone stopped paying him.
“They never gave me a reason,” Walker said this week.
Walker said Cornerstone stopped paying him before the flashing issue was discovered and that he stopped working before the contract was terminated.
“(The flashing) was one of the things that got missed, and I made an offer to re-mediate it in other ways, and (Cornerstone) said no,” Walker said. “When we found out at the end that there were some other things that needed to be done, we made an offer to come back and do it, and (Cornerstone) said no.”
Walker’s contract to build the houses was for $3.2 million, and according to Walker, the company received about 85 percent of the contract. Walker said attorneys for both sides are currently talking about the situation.
One of the selling points for Walker came from KHRA officials when the HOPE VI grant was originally announced, noting that Walker had done another HOPE VI project in Chattanooga — the company’s hometown.
According to a representative for the city of Chattanooga, Walker Construction was the principal contractor in a $35 million HOPE VI project — the Village at Alton Park — completed in 2006. This project created 275 rental units and 125 home ownership units.
Mark Rudisill, who was Chattanooga’s HOPE VI coordinator at the time, said their project went well.
“You always have glitches in a project of that magnitude. Their primary responsibility was for the second and third phases of the rental units, and they took over some of the home ownership units,” Rudisill said. “The city never came close to firing Walke r. ”
A separate problem with the houses deals with water in four of the houses’ crawl spaces.
Kingsport Building Inspector Mike Freeman said when the house foundations were dug out, it was during a drought. The recent rainy weather revealed the property has wet weather springs, and water was getting through the foundation, Freeman said.
To correct this problem, Ladd said sump pumps were installed in all 24 houses, and the KHRA intends to install a french drain in one section of the neighborhood.
“We are being very diligent and trying to do our best. We’re installing a french drain system in the area, in addition to the sump pumps,” Ladd said.
The money to install the sump pumps and french drain will come from other grants and proceeds from the sale of the homes.
Ladd said nobody anticipated the water problems, noting the KHRA put sump pumps in all 24 houses, even though only four were having problems.
KHRA officials have met with each homeowner and apprised them of the situation, along with what work will take place to fix their houses. Cunningham said he does not think anyone will have to be relocated during the repair process.
“We’re going to start with some empty ones and validate the process. They’re pretty confident there won’t be any issues,” Cunningham said. “It will be disruptive for a couple of weeks, but we’re pretty confident it won’t be a problem.
“They may have to be out a day or so. Nothing long term, just minor interruptions.”
Ernest Norton, who lives in one of the new houses, said the KHRA has been good during the ordeal, but he said the experience has been hectic.
“It’s been a headache for us. If you close on a home, you expect it to be done,” Norton said. “It’s been one thing after another, and it seems like it’s never ending.”