Window fix fails to bar problems

Air conditioning retrofit is fire hazard in Annapolis

July 10, 2002|By Amanda J. Crawford | Amanda J. Crawford,SUN STAFF

Dozens of units at an Annapolis public housing complex remain in violation of the city's fire code despite a $130,000 window replacement project designed to bring the complex into compliance, a fire official said yesterday.

The problem: plywood boards installed by the Annapolis Housing Authority in recent weeks as a makeshift solution so that air conditioning units would fit the new windows at the 149-unit Robinwood community off Forest Drive.

The plywood covers the open half of the windows, which slide left to right, and keeps the other half from opening - leaving too little room for residents to escape in the event of a fire, said Capt. Leonard Clark, spokesman for the Annapolis fire marshal's office.

The housing authority is sending the architect and contractor back to find another way to retrofit the units for air conditioning, just months after installing new windows in most of the units.

"This whole project has just not been planned well, and we realize that," said Pam Kane, the housing authority's public information officer. "We are looking at other options so that air conditioning can be provided in a much safer means."

The mix-up has generated fresh criticism of the housing authority from residents and local officials who have complained about conditions at the city's 10 public housing complexes.

"It's ridiculous and it's ugly," Alderman Cynthia Carter, whose ward includes Robinwood, said of the plywood installations. "It's degrading and not only that ... [it's] unsafe and hazardous."

The new windows were installed as part of the authority's five-year plan because the old windows did not offer the amount of space required by law for escape in the event of a fire, said Kane.

But the project has been dogged by complications.

The new windows slide open horizontally, unlike the old windows, which could be pulled down to secure a typical air-conditioning unit. In March, the housing authority began notifying residents that it would install plywood boards above air conditioners to hold them in place.

Shortly after that, longtime Robinwood resident Bobbie Jean Wilkins said she presented the authority with a letter from the fire marshal pointing out that the plywood would not meet the fire code.

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