Officials at RUPCO say that they’re working to address lead contamination in 32 apartments at the recently opened Lace Mill artists’ housing complex in Midtown Kingston. The remediation effort, already under way, could force some residents to relocate while crews treat contaminated floors.
The Lace Mill complex opened this summer, offering 55 units of affordable live-work space to artists and their families in a converted former industrial building on Cornell Street. RUPCO spent nearly two years and about $16 million converting the early 20th century factory building into apartments geared towards Kingston’s arts community. The project has won awards and been touted as a key element in efforts to revitalize Midtown Kingston.
RUPCO Executive Director Kevin O’Connor said this week local health department officials alerted the nonprofit to the lead contamination in late September. O’Connor declined to say exactly how the issue arose, citing privacy concerns. But two Lace Mill residents, who asked not to be identified, said the health department was called in after a small child living on one of the upper floors tested positive for elevated lead levels during a routine medical exam. O’Connor said the lead contaminants appeared to be solid material used in soldering discovered inside gaps between floorboards in the upper stories of the building, where designers left the original hardwood factory floor in place. O’Connor characterized the contamination as a “low-level issue,” noting the soldering material was unlikely to turn into dust or other forms that could be easily ingested.
“Because of the type of material and the lead levels we’re not under any mandate to do anything,” said O’Connor. “But we wanted to offer tenants a range of options.”
Those options include leaving the floors as-is, placing a laminate covering over the wooden floorboards or sealing the floors with polyurethane. O’Connor said some apartments had already been treated, and the agency was in the process of making arrangements with other tenants. O’Connor said the remediation process needed to wrap up by Dec. 31 so that RUPCO would be eligible for reimbursement through a “capital improvement” grant that helped fund the project.
Sarah Olivieri lives on the first floor of the Lace Mill and thus, was not impacted by the contamination. But, she said, she had attended meetings on the issue and spoken with neighbors about it. Olivieri, who lives in an apartment in the complex with her husband and 2-year-old son, said that she believed RUPCO had acted quickly and thoroughly in addressing the issue. But, she added some residents were upset over the disruption.
“It’s an inconvenience,” said Olivieri. “Some people are feeling rushed to make a decision and for some people the repairs couldn’t come fast enough.”
But another tenant, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because she did not want to antagonize her landlord, said that residents on the affected floors still have questions and complaints about the remediation process. The tenant said lead levels in the impacted apartments appeared to range widely — from negligible to 100 parts per million in her residence to 500 parts per million in a neighboring space. Health department regulations deem levels above 40 parts per million unsafe. The tenant said that she and her neighbors wondered how inspectors with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development missed the lead contamination in an inspection before tenants moved in.
“We all would have been living here not knowing anything about it if it wasn’t for mandatory lead testing [of children],” she said.
She added that the rush to get the remediation complete before year’s end was turning into a major hardship for some tenants who will be forced to relocate themselves and all of their possessions for up to a week in the middle of the holiday season. She said residents who opted for the polyurethane coating were scrambling to rent storage units and find accommodations while RUPCO officials wait to determine how many residents were taking the various options before coming up with a work schedule. She said tenants were also concerned about lead levels in themselves and their pets.
“I feel like they’re doing their best,” said the tenant. “But their best is not good enough for a lot of the residents who are going through this.”