Chapel Hill News

Flood, mold leave Chapel Hill residents in limbo

Five storage pods and a trailer take up half of one of the parking lots Friday at the Airport Gardens Apartments, 821 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Chapel Hill. Reconstruction will begin soon for a black mold problem due to recent flooding damage.
Five storage pods and a trailer take up half of one of the parking lots Friday at the Airport Gardens Apartments, 821 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Chapel Hill. Reconstruction will begin soon for a black mold problem due to recent flooding damage. hlynch@newsobserver.com

If it weren’t for the dark windows and storage pods in the parking lot, life at the Airport Gardens Apartments would have seemed normal last week.

Two women leaned against a wall in the afternoon sun, chatting as a group of young children played with a turtle they had found in the grass. A pair of boys rode their bikes along the sidewalk.

The rain that seriously damaged many low-lying Chapel Hill and Carrboro homes June 30 also flooded 18 apartments at the town-owned public housing complex on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Airport Gardens’ 26 units sit on a hill overlooking Hillsborough Street and the Bolin Creek Greenway. The Chapel Hill Police Department is across the street. The complex had a new drainage system and retaining wall installed in the late 1990s, town housing Director Tina Vaughn said.

“The water came so fast and so high, the drainage system couldn’t handle it,” she said.

In the days that followed, cleanup crews also found mold growing inside some of the walls, she said.

Residents did not want to be identified last week but said they are worried how long it will take for life to return to normal. A July 10 letter from the housing department said the walls between units that were removed after the flooding would be closed immediately and that the town was working with a contractor to schedule the repairs. The letter also gave residents phone numbers to call if they needed temporary housing or other assistance.

One woman said they have since contacted the housing department, the mayor and others trying to get answers.

Even those who took the town’s offer of a hotel room continue to cope without dependable transportation to work and to their apartments for necessities or to cook meals. Other residents are staying with relatives or have returned home to wait for the repairs.

Vaughn said one hotel does offer a continental breakfast, but other families may be eating with relatives or at local restaurants. If a serious mold problem is confirmed, the hotel stays will be extended, she said.

Residents have received other communication from the town since July 10, Vaughn said. However, she wasn’t able to immediately provide a copy of any notices or identify clearly what they said.

Mold produces microscopic spores that are common, but can cause asthma, allergy and cold-like symptoms if they settle in your lungs. Under the right conditions, some molds also can produce toxins. The very young and those with lung disease or weak immune systems are at the most risk, experts say.

Small amounts of mold are usually treated with a bleach solution, but larger infestations can require professional help or the removal of carpets and wallboard.

ServPro crews removed the soggy drywall at Airport Gardens within days, but the mold they found could take another month to remove. Matrix Health and Safety Consultants, based in Raleigh, has tested both floors in the affected apartments, Vaughn said. The results are expected this week.

They won’t know the cost or how long the work will take until they get the report, she said. Insurance will cover part of the cost, but the housing department will pay the rest with its reserves or, if possible, state or federal aid, she said.

“Once we know about the mold and the contractor starts working, it should take about four weeks,” she said.

Residents will need help replacing damaged furniture and other items when they return, she said.

Town staff also is preparing a report on the flooding at Airport Gardens and at Town Hall. It will look at the causes and potential improvements, Town Manager Roger Stancil said. The town already expects the repairs and renovations to the first floor of Town Hall to exceed $400,000. It could take up to a year to get the 42-year-old building ready for business again.

“Due to the extensive nature of the demolition, it was decided to reconsider the layout design of the business management services area to improve customer service and improve the efficiency of the space,” said Ken Pennoyer, director of business management services.

What insurance doesn’t pay, the town plans to cover with money from its savings or funding set aside for other projects.

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