Patten Towers residents moving to hotels today

Patten Towers residents moving to hotels today

June 3rd, 2013 by Judy Walton and Lindsay Burkholder in Local Regional News

Residents of Patten Towers sit outside the Brainerd Recreation Complex on Saturday. The residents, displaced by a fire last week, are to be moved into hotels Monday while the building's owner arranges more permanent housing for the estimated six to eight weeks they'll have to wait for the building to be repaired.

Photo by C. B. Schmelter/Times Free Press.

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It's not home, yet, but it's a step up from a cot and a blanket in a rec center gym.

Six days after an electrical fire forced them from their apartments, Patten Towers residents are to be moved to hotels today, according to the Chattanooga mayor's office.

The hundred-plus residents who had sheltered in the Brainerd Recreation Complex since the blaze were told of the move Sunday afternoon by employees of Towers owner PK Management.

"I hope there's some good news," said Michael Housley, who has lived at Patten Towers for four years.

"Send us somewhere. I'm about to cry. I want to go home. Put us in a hotel somewhere or something. I just want a shower and a bed. I'm so tired of sleeping on a cot," Housley said.

Reporters were barred from the meeting, and PK Management employees declined to comment.

Also Sunday, Mayor Andy Berke took PK CEO Robert Kriensky to task in a letter he said followed a conference call earlier that day.

Berke was unhappy with the company's laggard response to the crisis at its building. The 241 residents were evacuated Tuesday, and about 110 who didn't lodge with friends or family were sheltered at the Brainerd complex. The American Red Cross and Salvation Army stepped up with food, clothing and other needs at a cost of $10,000 a day.

Berke wrote that "the Red Cross and other organizations have advised us the shelter is only meant to be temporary and must be closed as soon as possible."

Berke also wrote of his "extreme disappointment" that PK staff in Chattanooga say only higher-ups can make decisions about getting the residents moved.

"I find it deplorable and unacceptable that we are still waiting on executives from PK Management to arrive on the scene this many days after the incident occurred," Berke wrote.

He noted the many city departments and public agencies involved in assessing the damage to the building and working to make sure the residents were safe and cared for, adding that city engineers would be on call to coordinate with PK employees.

"I also informed you that the safety of these citizens is our top concern, and no one will be allowed to return to live at Patten Towers until we are sure it is safe," he wrote.

A team that inspected the 1906-era building last week found exposed structural steel in the basement's concrete columns that could have been degraded by the fire.

Inspectors found wiring destroyed by the fire and a main electrical control panel that was improperly altered and will have to be replaced with a custom-built piece of equipment.

Inspectors also found improper ventilation and room ducts filled with rat feces and dirt, three boilers installed with no record of a permit, alterations to fire equipment and nonworking emergency power circuits, among other violations.

Berke's spokeswoman, Lacie Stone, wrote in an email update Sunday that the city will work with PK Management and the service providers to help get the residents settled and comfortable in their hotels. The residents will need health care, food and transportation while arrangements are made for more stable housing, she said.

At the Brainerd center, resident Edward Hamilton welcomed the news.

"I've been sleeping in my car every night. A hotel sounds good," said Hamilton, who has lived in Patten Towers since 2010.

Hamilton said he's been showering and washing his three sets of clothes at his mother's one-bedroom apartment which she shares with his sister. He hasn't been sleeping there, though, because it's so small, but he hasn't been sleeping at the shelter, either. He said he has trouble with his immune system and can get sick easily.

Despite the struggles, Hamilton felt he didn't have much reason to complain.

"I haven't seen nothing bad. They're treating everybody pretty well. The Red Cross is doing a great job," he said.

"It's not like Katrina or something. We have something to go back to. Just sit back and be patient."

Contact staff writer Judy Walton at jwalton@times freepress.com or 423-757-6416.