Misunderstanding keeps Curtis residents waiting longer to return

Friday April 26, 2013

LENOX -- Much to the disappointment of about 20 fourth-floor residents displaced from the Curtis housing complex, their move back home 15 days after the damaging fire that forced the shutdown of the building was postponed on Friday because of a communications snafu.

Their impending return had been announced on Thursday afternoon by Martha Joyner, the executive director of the Lenox Housing Authority. But the town's building inspector, William Thornton, overruled her on Friday morning, declaring that he had not approved the residents' return because he had unresolved safety concerns. He has the authority to green-light re-occupation of the building in stages.

Joyner blamed the snafu on a misunderstanding, saying she thought she had received Thornton's verbal approval during a meeting on Thursday.

"I don't think there was any question as to who had the authority," Thornton told The Eagle late Friday. "I think it was miscommunication, from how Martha understood what I said. I want those people in the building as bad as she does."

"I just want to make sure that when they go back, they go back into a safe building," he emphasized.

Thornton explained that he has not received a report from architect Jennifer Pelletier of Nault Architects Inc. in Worcester about "deficiencies in the building, based on the inspections we did." Pelletier could not be immediately reached Friday evening.

Thornton said he also needed confirmation in writing from Thomas R. Barthelette, construction adviser to the state Department of Housing and Community Development, that any deficiencies would be funded and corrected on an agreed time schedule.

The earliest Thornton is likely to receive the reports is Monday. "I would hope," he added.

Thornton said he would make a decision on the residents' phased-in return only after he receives those documents. About 40 other Curtis residents had been given no timetable for moving back in.

The building inspector emphasized that he would return to his office over the weekend if he receives confirmation that the needed documentation was being sent. "They have my cell phone, they can call me," Thornton said.

Asked whether he believes the building's fourth floor is unsafe, Thornton responded: "I don't want to make that determination because the architect is supposed to get back to me with the violations.

"If the violations that we found in the room where the fire was are throughout the building, then we have an issue throughout the building," said Thornton.

He declined to describe the violations in Apartment 209, where the April 11 blaze began and was brought under control by 50 Lenox, Lee and Stockbridge firefighters.

Lenox Fire Chief Daniel Clifford has issued a report stating that the fire was intentionally set, consuming the bedding in the unit. To date, no charges have been filed.

To contact Clarence Fanto:
cfanto@yahoo.com or (413) 637-2551.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto.


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