Walnut Place renovation, hits snags, delays

08/24/2017

The renovation of Walnut Place, once expected to be complete in July, has been pushed back to November or beyond, according to the owner of the Point Reyes Station senior living facility. Construction complications and an unforeseen expansion of the project’s scope are responsible for the delay, which has some residents wishing they’d been moved out for the duration. 

“We had to completely rearrange our lives, and it only continues,” Peggy Day, a retired nurse who has lived at Walnut Place since 2015, said. Some tenants temporarily moved out when the project started in January, but all but one who decided to leave permanently are now back at the facility, despite ongoing construction.  

The project was designed to improve a number of structural deficiencies in the 1986 building, which is owned by EAH Housing, a non-profit housing corporation. Termites brought wear and tear to the exterior siding and each of the building’s 25 units is being renovated with new floor covering, paint, appliances, and bathroom and seismic upgrades. 

Tenants were given three options for the first leg of construction: receive a one-time stipend of $1,180 and live off site with friends or family, live at a hotel that would be “as comparable as possible” to their own apartment, or remain in the building. Five residents left; the 17 who remained shuffled through the five vacant apartments as different wings of the building underwent repairs.

Paul Warshow, who chose to stay at a hotel back in January, said he was supposed to be gone for 30 days while they worked on his apartment, but it quickly turned into two months. Though EAH Housing gave him a meal stipend in addition to paying for the lodging, he was forced to move around seven times because he was unable to get a single reservation at one location.   

He said he is happy to be back at Walnut Place, though he called the construction “very unsettling.” Tenants are still subject to the loud noises and dust of a construction site, as well as constant inconveniences—such as the temporary loss of access to the front door of the building, laundry facilities and outdoor lighting on the grounds.  

“I totally appreciate that the residents are living in a construction zone, and we’re doing anything we can to support them,” Lynn Berard, the renovation supervisor for EAH Housing, said. “This is not a normal way of living.”

The project, which is being run by Petaluma-based Midstate Construction, was expected to begin last summer but was delayed while EAH awaited county permits and approval from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, which subsidizes the rentals. 

Last summer, in anticipation of the project, a majority of the building’s tenants formed an association to voice their concerns to EAH. Ms. Day said they received most of their requests, including getting their own keys to the respite trailer, proper signage to identify construction zones and adequate warning before Saturday work. They did not recieve financial compensation, however; the association had asked for $590 for each tenant who remained onsite, or half of the stipend given to those who moved out.

Though the association has not formally submitted complaints to EAH housing since then, grievances remain. 

According to Ms. Day, some of the windows in the units were installed incorrectly and crews returned several times to redo them, displacing residents in the process. The windows in eight apartments, including her own, are half finished, with cuts into walls and plastic sheeting stapled to the exterior. 

An outdoor staircase also threw a wrench into the project, as the construction company discovered midway through the project that it had to be removed before the siding could be replaced. Ms. Berard said they decided to go ahead and replace the staircase after learning they had to remove it anyway, and had to apply for new permits this spring. 

The roof has also been reworked several times, delaying the replacement of solar panels. At her monthly meeting with residents last week, Ms. Berard said EAH would provide funds for residents to compensate for their higher energy bills.

She also apologized for the window and other mishaps, said any final renovations for the units would be done in one- or two-day periods and emphasized some new improvements that would be made, including the addition of baseboard heaters and an overhaul of the parking lot.

The atmosphere at the meeting was friendly, though there was an air of resignation among the tenants. Many were sadened over the recent clearing of shrubs, trees and garden beds. In particular, they discussed one apple tree that Ms. Berard promised would be replanted in a location that worked better with the construction plans, though she also said an arborist stated it had only a 50-50 chance of surviving the upset.   

“Everyone sees us as a nuisance to the construction,” Ms. Day said after the meeting. “The truth is, they should have just moved us out.”