Gas scare jars NE complex

Forest Green Apartments is located at 3501 NE 15th St.

LEE FERINDEN/Special to The Sun
Published: Wednesday, December 1, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, December 1, 2004 at 12:48 a.m.
Residents of Forest Green Apartments awoke Tuesday morning to green signs notifying them that dangerous levels of carbon monoxide had been detected in the complex overnight.
Several residents in Building N called Gainesville Regional Utilities about 9 p.m. Monday after a carbon monoxide detector went off at the low-income housing units at 3501 NE 15th St., GRU officials said.
It was the second carbon monoxide scare since Monday.
Early Monday morning, Phillip Burris, a 45-year-old Gainesville resident, awoke with a headache and nausea at his home at 3224 NW 31st Ave. He called 911 after his daughter, Harmony, reported similar symptoms. Firefighters evacuated the house and took six family members to Shands at the University of Florida for observation. They were all released Monday. Investigators later found that insulation had blocked the furnace's vent holes.
At Forest Green, 300 parts per million of the deadly gas was found inside one apartment in Building N, said Donna Honsberger, a field services manager for GRU.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can result if levels exceed 9 parts per million, GRU officials said.
Several residents in Building N were evacuated during the night and their apartments were left to air out. GRU turned the gas off to the entire complex at 2 a.m., leaving 200 residents without heat and hot water, said Bob Bergdoll, customer operations director for the city.
Honsberger said the carbon monoxide poisoning was related to the complex's "long list" of building code violations. Vent material was not properly connected to the furnaces, blocking safe passageway for combustible gases, she said.
"The combustion products have to be vented to the outside of the homes. If the vents are not connected to the appliances, then the product could contaminate the air in the home," Honsberger said.
Some residents, who woke Tuesday morning to find notes explaining the incident, said Tuesday night that they were concerned that GRU did not evacuate them.
"If it's a dangerous gas, they should at least wake us up and let us know about the poison," said Kevin Swopshire, 32, who with his wife, Shanika Kicks, 25, lives in Building G. They said they were concerned for the safety of their two young sons.
But Honsberger said that since the gas was turned off, other residents were not in danger. She added that GRU did not receive calls from residents in other buildings.
Both city officials and GRU are looking into the possibility that the complex had several code violations.
Tom Saunders, Gainesville's community development director, said the city also was looking into whether the contractor and owner applied for the appropriate permits to do recent renovations.
The property manager, WHR Realty Services, recently hired a contractor to replace gas water heaters in 10 of the buildings. Renovations to the entire complex began shortly after January 2003, when WHR Realty took over management of the property, said Mark Rutledge, president of WHR Realty Services in St. Petersburg. The complex is owned by Cal-VFG Investors of Sherman Oaks, Calif.
Rutledge said he was not notified of Tuesday's incident.
"If there is a problem in the units with anything that's installed, we'll correct it," he said.
Property tax records indicate the apartments were built in 1972. Rutledge said the property needed renovations.
"We were brought in here to clean it up," he said.
Meredith Mandell can be reached at (352) 338-3109 or

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