Boy's plunge puts focus on missing, bad screens Missing, tattered window screens prompt a warning

April 03, 1991|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,Evening Sun Staff

A 5-year-old boy's fall from a ninth-story window at a public housing project has focused attention on the dangers posed by the building's missing and tattered window screens.

On Saturday, Calvin Ray suffered a broken leg after falling from an apartment in Lexington Terrace in West Baltimore. The boy fell from a window where a screen had been detached from the window frame and pushed aside. He was listed in good condition today at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center.

Sparked by the boy's fall, the city authority is warning tenants about windows, but the agency says it cannot obtain replacement screens because they are no longer being manufactured.

"We will make sure something goes out to remind residents to watch their children and to make sure screens are working properly and that they use the screens," said Juanita Harris, deputy director of the housing authority, adding:

"Sometimes [tenants] have a tendency to pull up the screens and not put them back down."

Bill Toohey, spokesman for the housing authority, said the manager of the Lexington Terrace/Poe Homes has been unable to obtain replacement screens since 1983 when new windows were installed in all five high rises. There are 677 apartments in the high rises.

Subsequently, the housing authority learned that it "could no longer get new screens for them [the windows] because they [the screens] were no longer manufactured," said Toohey

Last year, Lexington Terrace's manager "requested replacing the windows so she could get new screens." The manager's request was made to a federally funded weatherization program. But the program turned down the request because the building's windows were only 7 years old, Toohey said.

"We are left with windows that basically work, but screens that we can't replace," said Toohey.

Asked if the housing authority could find money for new windows and screens, Toohey replied: "It would cost money and it was felt money should be put toward areas of more immediate need, such as elevators. It is highly unlikely we would put new windows in [Lexington Terrace] eight years after [installing the current windows]."

Lorraine Ledbetter, president of the Lexington Terrace's tenant council, was surprised to learn that the screens could not be replaced.

"They never told me that [the screens were no longer made]," Ledbetter said. "They told me they don't have the funds."

Ledbetter said she would soon ask the housing authority to install special safety windows that contain internal grates to prevent people from falling from the windows.

"It's too bad you have to wait until something tragic happens before they [the housing authority] do something. We need something the children cannot flick open. If you're going to put kids in a high rise, you have to protect them."

She said the safety windows are already being installed in the nearby George B. Murphy Homes. They also have been installed in a one high rise apartment at Lexington Terrace that was rebuilt after a fire.

Ledbetter said the boy simply pushed aside the detached window screen -- which was leaning against the inside of the window -- before he tumbled about 90 feet to the grass below. The boy, who does not live in the project, was visiting there when he fell.

A reporter recently visited the building in the 700 block of W. Mulberry St. and discovered many windows without screens. Many other windows had warped screens, loosely fitting screens or screens with gaping holes.

Ledbetter said she visited the apartment that the boy fell from and showed the tenant how to open the window from the top, rather than the bottom, so that a small child could not fall out.

The housing authority used to levy a $5 or $10 fine on tenants who tampered with the screens, said Barbara McKinney, who has resided at Lexington Terrace for 32 years.

"Now they don't do anything. And there are many windows without screens," said McKinney.

Harris disputed McKenney's statement.

"We have never had a system of fining our residents in public housing," Harris said. "People might say that, but we have never implemented fines."

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