by Andrew Laxon
Developers and builders have made plans to evacuate more than 100 residents of a leaking housing development which they fear may be contaminated with toxic mould.
Herald investigations have established that the 65-unit Silverfield Terraces site in St Lukes is leaking badly and a consultant’s report shows moisture readings of up to 99 per cent in some walls.
Downer Construction, which finished the $14 million development opposite St Lukes shopping centre just 16 months ago, plans to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars checking and repairing every unit over the next 12 months.
Based on its work on two units so far, the company expects it may have to replace the exterior cladding and possibly rotting timber wall framing on many of the terrace apartments, which sell for between $200,000 and $250,000.
Downer has also warned the developer, Redwood Group, that if the builders discover toxic mould inside the walls residents will have to move out for their own safety.
The Herald has also learned that Redwood has contingency plans to move out owners and their families, unit by unit.
The company confirms it has checked the availability and prices of motel units and removal firms but refuses to say how much the exercise could cost.
Residents at Silverfield Terraces knew nothing about the evacuation plans and the likely extent of repairs when the Herald contacted them.
"We’re being treated like kids and not being told the full story and that makes me angry," said Karen O’Kerry, who lives in a $215,000 two-bedroom unit with her partner, Shirley Randle, and 11-year-old son Sam.
"I’d rather know the worst-case scenario. We’re all intelligent people."
Redwood boss Tony Gapes – who also developed the 97-apartment Eden Two site in Mt Eden, which the Herald revealed this week has rotting balconies – denied on Monday that there were any serious or widespread problems at Silverfield.
But on Tuesday Redwood’s financial controller, Dermot Rodden, confirmed the company had made contingency plans to shift owners and was waiting for Downers to tell it if residents would have to move out.
"If it becomes necessary to move them elsewhere it would be to accommodation to a similar standard or better," he said.
"They’re aiming to try to keep people in their apartments and not disrupt them. Obviously if it proves necessary to move people out, then they’ll move people out."
Downers general manager Clive Tilby said his company hoped to repair every unit without shifting residents but said they would be moved immediately if workers discovered toxic mould.
"If there’s any of this dampness and mildew that can have health issues related to it, then it’s absolutely without question that people would need to move."
Downers could not be sure how bad the problem was until it removed the cladding on every unit, he said.
Asked if timber framing might have to be replaced because of rot, he replied: "To be honest, I would think there is going to be some work required on internal framing."
Herald sources familiar with the development’s problems said it was highly likely that exterior cladding and timber frames would have to be replaced in many units, which would make it difficult – if not impossible – for residents to stay.
Mr Tilby said Downers, which had never had a problem like this before, was carrying the cost of all repairs at this stage but reserved its legal right to contest this later.
He believed the leaks, which included water seeping through inadequate roof flashings, were caused by poor design and possibly bad workmanship.
One of the main issues still being debated was whether architectural plans for details such as gutters were faulty or whether subcontractors employed by Downers had applied them incorrectly.
From a builder’s point of view, Mr Tilby said he believed the industry should go back to greater use of treated timber, although this would increase costs for the homeowner.
"It’s clear now with these types of buildings that unless you’re sure you can keep water out, you’d better have some resistant timber in there."
Last night Mr Gapes said that Downers’ comments confirmed what he had told the Herald on Monday – that the company was not sure that anyone would have to move out.
Asked why Redwood had not told residents they might have to move, he replied: "I must admit I’m not sure what we’ve told the residents because I haven’t been intimately involved in it."
For Karen O’Kerry any realistic hope of selling her unit is already gone.
For prospective buyers, the sealant marks from temporary repair jobs on several units and the builders’ prefabs at the bottom of the site are telltale signs of the long job ahead.
"I was thinking in the last few days, ‘Oh God, should I sell?’, but it’s too late," Karen O’Kerry said. "People know now."