peary court property report

by Naja and Arnaud Girard…….

Some recent independent home inspection testing at Peary Court has brought a worrisome result.

“My mold assessment led me to advise the tenants to vacate the apartment,” says Hugh Johnson. Johnson is the owner of “Inspect Key West.” He’s a Florida licensed home inspector and mold assessor.

On March 15th voters will decide whether the City should purchase the White Street property, including the 49 buildings that were once used as Navy housing.

Plan A for inspection of the buildings ran into some rough weather early this week after The Blue Paper published a detailed report about some of the extravagant items included in a $165,951 inspection estimate.

Saltz Michelson Architects, the Fort Lauderdale firm, chosen for the job, wants $29,000 for hotels and travel expenses, $61,000 to conduct a “visual inspection” (including flipping electrical switches and opening faucets) but of the 157 apartments, only 16 would be thoroughly inspected. They also claim to need 553 hours worth of “police escorts” estimated at $24,885. The total cost for the very limited inspection would be over $1000 per unit.

According to Commissioner Sam Kaufman, the standard price for detailed home inspections in Key West is around $300 per unit. “At least that’s what I paid every time I needed that service,” Kaufman told The Blue Paper.

There is little doubt that information obtained from a thorough inspection is needed before voters can make a careful, informed decision about the purchase. Costs associated with refurbishing those apartments could affect the City’s ability to pay back the 55 million dollars in bonds that would be used to purchase the property and an estimated ten million dollars from the City’s share of the Monroe County Land Authority affordable housing fund would be put at risk.

If the City Hall restoration project at the old Glynn Archer elementary school is any indication, restoring a building can be just as expensive as new construction. “During one quick mold assessment [at Peary Court],” says Hugh Johnson, “I noticed air conditioner condensate drainage issues, plumbing leaks and poor attic ventilation, all leading to high humidity and high mold spore counts.”

City Manager Jim Scholl says inspections are part of the due diligence process. But why hire an architectural firm from Fort Lauderdale at three or four times the cost of a local home inspection outfit? Saltz Michelson Architects is on retainer with the City under a “continuous agreement” that allows the City to quickly contract for architectural services without having to go through the formal competitive bidding procedures.

On Tuesday night, City Manager Jim Scholl, withdrew his proposal to accept Salz Michelson’s $165,951 estimate. “We are looking at some other options,” says Scholl, including relying on “documents provided by the current owner.” He also mentioned, “not want[ing] to spend too heavily prior to the referendum as we still don’t know if the acquisition is able to move forward.” Could we be going from an exorbitant proposal to not getting inspections done at all?

Echoing public concern over the true condition of the Peary Court buildings, Mark Songer, President of the local government watchdog group, Last Stand, has offered a solution. In an email sent to City Commissioners last Monday, Songer suggests that the City engage several local home inspection companies, “so that each may provide inspection reports on a portion of the units at Peary Court.”

Under City code, any contract over $20,000 must normally go through a formal competitive bidding process. However, there is no longer enough time prior to the March 15th referendum for that 60-90 day process to run its course. However, under Section 2.797 of the code, the City Manager can declare an “emergency” and contract directly with private companies, avoiding the lengthy bid collection process. It would seem that the housing crisis, coupled with the referendum deadline and the rare opportunity to purchase Peary Court would qualify as an emergency.

We expect, wrote Songer, “that the City will receive the same or enhanced information from the local inspectors because full inspections can be performed on more than 16 units at a substantial savings from the Saltz Michelson Architects proposal.”

Scholl told The Blue Paper he and his staff will “discuss the range of reasonable value options and present a recommendation to the Commission if [they] determine there is a good alternative.”

Meanwhile, here’s a copy of the general inspection report prepared by Atkins Engineers of Key Largo in the summer of 2013 on behalf of the current owners of Peary Court.

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