Home sweet home is showing cracks

The General Colin Powell co-op on Fox Street

Co-op residents say Powell building needs repairs

When a 50-unit co-op building named for former secretary-of-state Colin Powell opened on Fox Street in the fall of 2010, Powell himself came and delivered an emotional speech to the new residents. Standing in front of the brick building, he waxed eloquent about his childhood in Longwood, while welcoming the new residents to the wonders of home ownership.

Now, though, several of the building’s residents say they have received a rude awakening in the year since their introduction to upward mobility.

Cracks in the building facade.

The building is plagued with leaks, and cracks are showing up in the brickwork, they say. An engineer consulted by the board characterized efforts to repair the cracks as “Band-aids.”

Co-operators blame Blue Sea Development, the specialist in affordable housing, which built the building, the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development, which helped finance it and Blue Sea’s management arm, Dalton Management.

They contend that the builders rushed to complete the building and have been slow to correct construction defects. Dalton Management has ignored or downplayed their concerns about maintenance and security, they add.

Les Bluestone, Blue Sea’s principal, declined to comment.

Until recently, a wet spot three feet high extended from a concrete wall down to a paved ramp that connects the building’s outdoor parking lot to the laundry room. The spot has shrunk, but a constant wet streak remains at the base of the wall.

High praise for Powell building

A galaxy of public officials joined Colin Powell at the corner of Fox and Leggett in September, 2010 to dedicate the first new co-op to be built anywhere in the Hunts Point/Longwood area. Here’s some of what they had to say:

• “Today’s ribbon cutting is a manifestation of the City’s investment in the future of these families and this borough.This ongoing investment will serve to stabilize a community that has cast off the stigmas of the past to be rebuilt and revitalized”–Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Rafael E. Cestero.

• “This green, affordable development is exactly the kind of development I want to see all over the Bronx,”—Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.

“Blue Sea strives to create affordable homes that are ‘all that quality housing can be.’ We are extremely proud of the General Colin L. Powell Apartments”– Les Bluestone, Principal of Blue Sea Development Company.

Worried residents say Blue Sea and Dalton officials told them the wet spot formed naturally from an underground creek after construction was completed, and is not the company’s responsibility. Blue Sea has steadfastly refused to pay to correct the damage, the co-op board says.

“Where’s the water coming from?” asked first-time homeowner and co-op board member, Elizabeth Leslie. “Why do we have to go through this every time?

“I never owned anything, but then you have to go through this. I’m concerned because this is my investment,” she said. “I feel like I’m being bamboozled.”

Peterson Valcourt, another of the building’s first-time homeowners, said he sent “letters after letters and complaints” to Blue Sea, urging repairs, but he never received an answer.

“It’s rush work that wasn’t done properly,” said Valcourt, who has worked for a general contractor for years.

Security measures, too, have been haphazardly implemented, they charge. The lock on the inside front door was so poorly installed that when the building opened anyone was able to enter by slipping a credit card into the door jamb, says first-time homeowner Damian Griffin. It took a prolonged outcry from residents before management corrected the problem, he said.

Last summer, burglars were able to break in to an area board members say was weakly secured near the boiler room. They stole the superintendent’s tools.

Most troubling, they say, are vertical cracks showing in the building’s external brick work. Griffin says contractors are trying to caulk the cracks. The co-op board sent photographs of the cracked bricks to a masonry expert and engineer, who was startled by what he saw.

“Come on! Just coming in with caulk, I can’t believe this stuff,” said Keith Lashway of the Albany-based International Masonry Institute.

Lashway says whether the cracks are attributable to poor design, improperly trained masons, inadequate construction or improper weatherization during the initial construction phase, caulking them is “only a temporary solution.”

“It’s a Band-aid approach,” he said, adding that the residents “didn’t pay for a Band-aid job.” What’s needed, he continued, is a thorough assessment to find out what is causing the bricks to crack.

“It’s something that’s failing,” Griffin said of the cracked crumbling facade. “It may fail again.”

Leslie says she’s fed up with Blue Sea’s dismissive attitude toward the board’s complaints, and would like a new management company to take charge.

Despite the litany of headaches, and concerns for the building’s future, owning a home is a long-held dream that some at the General Colin Powell Apartments say they will fight to hold on to.

“I still love living here” Griffin said.

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