Kissing mold goodbye?
December 9, 2003
The town has contracted with two companies to remediate mold at Timber Ridge Village Apartments. The work includes installing ventilation systems in the bathrooms, replacing carpet, sinks and vanities and, in some cases, even parts of the walls.”We’re continuing to take the appropriate steps necessary to bringthese units back online as soon as possible to accommodate Vail’shousing needs for the ski season,” Suzanne Silverthorn, the town’s community information officer, said Tuesday.Silverthorn said the target is to have 30 units ready to be “master-leased” by Vail Resorts no later than Dec. 22, with an additional 22 or more units available by Jan. 5. At the same time, she said, the town and Timber Ridge’s managers will be working with tenants of the 30 occupied units to clean those units with “as little disruption as possible.”Last month, microbiologists from a Fort Collins-based company, Stewart Environmental, completed inspections and random air sampling at Timber Ridge. Their analysis identified 60 units that could be readied for occupancy with a minimal amount of remediation. In addition, they recommended that 30 occupied units also receive some work, bringing the total number of units needing attention to 90.”Seen a lot worse’During the inspections, leaky pipes were identified and repaired to prevent further mold growth.Wendell Rahorst, an industrial hygienist from WR Inc., in Golden then made a visit to help plan remediation work and clearance procedures, including air sampling and visual inspections.The recommended remediation work includes installing new ventilation systems in the bathrooms, as well as replacing some bathroom vanities and some kitchen cabinets. Scraping and repainting window sills also is necessary in some units. All units in question will have the carpet replaced.Daryl Tomsick, president of Denver-based Northstar Fire & Water Restoration, says the remediation work – which involves workers dressing in air-tight suits so as not to breathe in mold spores – is “going great.” Compared to some cases he’s seen on the Front Range, he added, Timber Ridge’s mold situation isn’t all that bad.”We’ve seen a lot worse,” he said.”Moving right along’Charlie O’Neil of the Rifle-based Storm King Mechanical, which has been contracted to replace the bathroom ventilation systems, says that process is “moving right along.”The original bathroom ventilators at Timber Ridge were of the recirculating variety, O’Neil said, meaning they did not vent to the outside and therefore did nothing to eliminate moisture, the leading contributor to a mold-friendly environment.For that reason, duct work in the ceilings is being installed, he said, connecting the new ventilator to the outside.Silverthorn said the ventilators are key to the remediation work and to prevent mold problems in the future.”With an improved ventilation system for the bathrooms and an aggressive maintenance system for the repair of leaky pipes, we believe the source of the mold problems are being appropriately addressed and the residents of these units should take comfort in knowing that we’re addressing these issues in a safe and responsible way,” said Silverthorn.Tenants already living in units found in need of attention were told they must relocate to other units in the complex. Silverthorn said even before mold was identified as a problem at Timber Ridge, there were no complaints from tenants.”These residents have been extremely accommodating and cooperative and we intend to do what we can to make this transition as smooth as possible,” Silverthorn said. “It’s unfortunate for them, having to move during the holiday season. That can’t be a pleasant experience. We’re trying to bend over backward to accommodate them.””No problems’Octavio Ruz, a resident of Timber Ridge for 10 years, said he moved into another unit last month.”So far, we’ve had no problems,” he said.Timber Ridge, comprising 16 buildings on North Frontage Road, remains the largest rental property in Vail. It houses 198 apartments, all 750-square-foot, two-bedroom, one-bath units. The facility was acquired for $20 million by the town in July from John Marks as a result of a “friendly condemnation process.”The property, purchased to maintain deed restrictions for affordable housing, has historically been used to house seasonal employees of Vail Resorts and other businesses.Silverthorn said Vail Resorts has been “very responsive” in working with the town to keep as many its employees housed at Timber Ridge.”This is a very aggressive plan, as time is on the essence,” she said. Vail Resorts has come to the table with a lot of flexibility, even expressing a willingness to sign 18-month master leases.”Convenient for our employees’Brian McCartney, the ski company’s vice president of mountain operations at Vail, said it’s important to have employees who work in Vail also live in Vail.”It’s an important part of making sure we have the proper staff. And we’ve got a bunch of fellas ready to move in,” said McCartney, adding that the majority of the company’s employees at Timber Ridge work in lift operations, food services, or with the ski school.McCartney said Vail Resorts could have “jumped ship and gone downvalley,” signing leases at complexes such as Buffalo Ridge and The Tarnes in Avon.”We’re working on a longer-range point of view,” he said. “It’s convenient for our employees to be up here in Vail.”The estimated cost of the remediation work is $31,500, or between $1,000 and $3,000 a unit.Silverthorn said the town has a funding reserve that will accommodate this work for the short-term.”We do not know yet, if, or how, future rents will be impacted,” she said.Future of Timber RidgeThe aging Timber Ridge is an important part of the housing equation in Vail, where property values are at a premium due to the lack of more land on which to build.Yet the complex has been considered an eyesore by some Vail residents for years and has been the topic of many a conversation about redevelopment. While the town has been looking actively at options, housing officials and financial managers are wary of any substantial reinvestment in keeping Timber Ridge a viable, affordable place to live.”We’re approaching this in phases,” Silverthorn said. “Our immediate priority is to clear 90 or more units for occupancy and to provide a healthy living environment for the current tenants. Then, we’ll regroup to determine additional next steps.”Ripples from BreckBy Stephen Lloyd WoodThe situation with mold in the fold at Timber Ridge Village Apartments is a ripple effect from Breckenridge.Earlier this year, residents of a 45-unit complex there, Breckenridge Terrace, were told to leave due to possible health risks associated with elevated levels of mold, which in humans can cause a variety of health problems.Residents of 45 units – mostly employees of Vail Resorts – were told to vacate after inspectors found elevated levels of mold in every one of that complex’s 17 buildings. The ski company found alternative lodging for them and refunded a month’s rent while waiving another month’s rent.According to the U.S. Environmental Agency, mold and mildew are types of fungi that grow on the surface of objects, within pores, and in deteriorating materials. They can cause discoloration and odor problems, deteriorate building materials and lead to allergic reactions and other health problems.In September, Vail Resorts – which has plans to lease nearly half of Timber Ridge’s 198 two-bedroom units for the upcoming ski season – asked the town to confirm those units had been inspected for mold. That prompted the town to contact a Fort Collins-based company, Stewart Environmental Consultants Inc., to perform a series of tests on 20 randomly selected units. Preliminary results indicated 18 of those units tested positive for “elevated levels” of mold, typically in bathrooms, kitchens, underneath sinks and utility closets where water leaks exist or have existed.