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Some tenants still displaced after Wauregan sprinkler break

By Claire Bessette

Publication: The Day

Published October 03. 2013 4:00AM

Norwich - It had been nearly three years since a sprinkler system last burst at the Wauregan apartment building, flooding tenants' homes and hallways and sending firetrucks screaming to the 70-unit historic building.

That string of dryness ended abruptly Friday evening, when a sprinkler pipe on the sixth floor broke and sent water cascading down through floors, ceilings and walls to the ground floor. Seventeen apartments were flooded to the point where city inspectors ordered the power shut off until repairs were made.

The second-floor historic ballroom, where the floor was recently refurbished, had 2 inches of water, which dripped into the Wauregan Laundry below it.

City Director of Inspections James Troeger said the sprinkler pipe was repaired within hours of the break, and electricity to all the damaged units was restored by Monday.

ARS Restoration Specialists of Rhode Island was hired to clean out the damaged floors, ceilings, carpeting and other materials and test the walls for moisture levels. As of Wednesday evening, about 90 percent of the required demolition had been completed, said Michael Cunningham, property manager for WinnCompanies, which manages the building for owner Becker and Becker Associates.

The city Human Services Department initially housed 13 tenants who had no alternative place to go in the Comfort Inn & Suites, and 11 remained displaced Wednesday. The city will be reimbursed for those costs, said Lee Ann Gomes, social work supervisor for Norwich Human Services. After learning the American Red Cross would not assist in the sprinkler break, Gomes met with tenants on the street Friday night to asses their needs and determine how many had no place else to go temporarily.

Cunningham said three to five tenants could be moved soon into currently vacant apartment units in the Wauregan that were not damaged by the sprinkler break. Another tenant was examining his apartment, which had less damage than others, Wednesday afternoon to decide whether he felt comfortable moving back in, Cunningham said.

Others, however, will have to wait until hallway repairs are done outside their units.

For years, the Wauregan was plagued by sprinkler pipe breaks that frustrated city officials and the building's owners alike. The defective pipes were the subject of complex litigation and a settlement that yielded some reimbursement to Becker and Becker Associates, said company President Bruce Becker.

The statute of limitations on the settlement reimbursements is expired, Becker said, leaving the company to rely on its insurance to cover most of the yet-to-be determined damage costs.

Becker and Becker replaced most of the pipes on the first and second floors and the basement where several earlier breaks occurred. Two breaks had occurred on the sixth floor in the past, but Becker said they didn't fit the other pattern of defective pipes, so company officials thought they were unrelated.

Now, he said, they are reconsidering that conclusion and might soon replace more of the CPVC plastic pipes there once the current damage is repaired and all apartments reopen.

"We appreciate all the understanding from our tenants," Becker said, "and we want to thank the fire department and the city for helping us restore the building to its prior condition."

c.bessette@theday.com

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