Update: March 13, 2017
Since the last newsletter, which was about two weeks ago, there are several things to apprise you of. Please recognize that things are changing daily, sometimes hourly, but not all anticipated changes actually come to fruition so that in some instances it is probably better to allow things to ‘percolate’ before passing them on only to have to retract them.
The Board met recently with Allyn Kilsheimer (lead structural engineer with KCE) to discuss where we are with the investigative phase of the work on the buildings. Just about everyone recognizes the primary focus is on the 31 Building and the reason for that is the tests conducted to date have found issues in addition to the failure of a column or two at the portico. The specifics will be forthcoming in the cause report.
As you will remember, Allyn stated he would need to know the scope of the problem before it made any sense to begin planning the repair. He is now writing the cause report and we expect to have it soon. This report is crucial for a number of reasons.
First, most of the displaced owners insurance carriers have declined to provide coverage to their policy holders even though their policy provides loss of use coverage. Many of the insurance carriers have stated that they must have the cause report. This seems unreasonable because these insurers know that it will take months to determine the findings and write the report. They have made a bad situation worse by withholding benefits for these displaced owners’ losses.
Second, the Association needs the cause report for Travelers, our master policy holder, which has yet to make a decision regarding whether it will provide coverage to the Association. The Association has hired insurance coverage counsel, who is helping make our claim against Travelers with the assistance of the Association’s general counsel. We remain optimistic that Travelers will make the correct decision and provide coverage for the loss, but if not, the Association may need to engage in litigation.
And lastly, the Association needs the cause report in order to find another insurance company to provide our master policy coverage as Travelers has decided not to continue providing the Association’s insurance coverage.
So you see this report is of monumental importance on many levels. The minute we have it we will let you know.
Because to date we have not had any meaningful communication with Travelers, we anticipate that it will be necessary for us to take out a loan in order to have the money necessary to keep the repair work proceeding forward. Our reserves will not cover the full scope of the project and we must also maintain some reserves both to make us an attractive borrower and to cover any currently unforeseen items that may arise, separate from this project. If, and when, it is determined that Travelers must cover our expenses we will pay the loan off. But what we cannot do is sit and wait to see if Travelers will cover the expenses on their own, or if this will go to trial in which case it’s anybody’s guess how long it might take for resolution.
We are communicating with several banks on their terms for an $8M line of credit. The Board cannot enter into a loan of this size without 2/3 of the owner’s approval, or 350 owners. It will be imperative that each owner take seriously their responsibility to participate in this vote.
We are planning to have Allyn Kilsheimer (our structural engineer from KCE) come to a meeting later this month to explain what the tests have shown. He will also hopefully be able to shed some light on the necessary repairs and estimate the length of time needed to complete them. Again, as soon as we have that date and where the meeting will be held all owners will be alerted. We hope that our owners will recognize that Allyn’s offer to speak to the owners is not strictly something that he is required to do. We also hope that he may come again at a later stage to brief us once work is well underway.
In the newsletter two weeks ago we stated that going forward the ‘Urgent Update’ tab on the front page of the website would be moved to the ‘Resident Only’ page. We’re happy to report that, to date, a large number of residents have requested a password. For those that haven’t done so yet, there is a line under the “Resident Only’ tab on the website for you to request a password. Please don’t delay doing this. After this update, paper copies of future updates will only be made upon request to the office.
We understand that some residents feel that the frequency and content of the updates are lacking. Others frankly seem rather disinterested. We ask that you please recognize that the Board members and management, our attorneys and engineers are each working as hard as we can on your behalf. This is a complex situation to which there are no easy or quick answers and if we could make this all be resolved tomorrow we would do so.
Update: February 28, 2017
Updates on the Portico Work – Work is progressing at a consistent pace, though we’re aware everyone would like things to move more quickly. KCE continues toward completion of the evaluative phase of this project, so that the design/build phase can get underway. In recent days, we’ve seen changes to scaffolding at the 31 Building and reports on completed tests have been forwarded to the county. Investigative work is also underway at 21 and 41, where some scaffolding changes will also be made.
To this point, the focus of the project has been on 31, as we are aware that our primary goal is full re-occupancy of the building, but it’s also important to keep two things in mind:
First, The Association is paying on a weekly basis for scaffolding, and so the sooner it can be removed from any and all buildings, the less costly this otherwise very expensive project will be. In addition, those performing evaluative work are doing so at all three buildings, as a matter of course. This is simply how they work. By and large, these are not the same folks who will ultimately be making repairs, and so evaluative work done at one building is not holding up the process of repairs being made elsewhere.
To expedite matters for our engineer and our residents, the Association recently established an escrow account, so that KCE can hire and pay contractors as needed, without having to wait for our financial management agent to make funds liquid and cut checks.
As we move into the design/build phase of the project, we are in the process of finalizing the selection of a Project Manager, who will oversee all aspects of the project on behalf of the Association. In selecting a highly qualified engineering firm, a highly reputable insurance attorney and a Project Manager, the board has done all that it can do, and must now turn day to day management of the project over to the experts.
Regarding future updates, be advised that going forward, the “Updates” tab on our website, which is currently on the front “public” page of the website, will be moved to the “Residents Only” page. This move is in keeping with privacy issues this project will require going forward. Future communications will likely involve information regarding legal/insurance and financial matters and highly technical updates from contractors, which are not appropriate for a website’s public area.
If you have not previously requested a password in order to access the Residents Only page, you can find the request form under the “Residents Only” tab. You can submit the request form automatically to the office, where staff will verify the applicant is in fact a resident and authorize issuing a password. Once you have your password and are able to access the page you will see it contains a number of other items of interest to residents as well. Please take a moment to request this password, because in going forward this will be the primary avenue for residents to get updated information on the repair work. Other than community-wide newsletters, paper copies of updates will be made only upon request.
Update: February 10, 2017
Today’s update is available in the attached document that is printer friendly. Here is the first memo from KCE (our structural engineering firm) to the Fairfax County laying out the status of their investigation that KCE is performing.
Update: January 31, 2017
On Friday, January 27, Board members Bill Nichols, Nancy Rivers and Melanie Wallace along with Veronica Brown, General Manager and Marla Diaz our Association attorney met with Allyn Kilsheimer of KCE Structural Engineering, who is the engineer the Board hired to design the repair and restoration work on our buildings. Also present were members from the County.
KCE has now completed the initial stage of its work by collecting and reviewing documentation regarding the history and construction of the buildings which KCE required in order to develop a strategy for reconstruction and to begin its causation analysis. Based on the information gathered, Allyn is recommending several next steps to (1) continue his investigation into the cause of the collapse, and (2) design a repair that will return the displaced owners to their units as quickly as possible. The steps are:
1. Clean the now exposed steel columns at all three porticos and measure the columns to determine their thickness and strength. This will be done by clipping a coupon (a small sample of steel) which will be sent to the laboratory for testing.
2. Conduct a finite element analysis to determine what is required to restore the building to a safe structural condition for occupancy. (These will be based on BOCA codes from the date of original construction and the results of the measured steel strength).
3. Install a piezometer (water tube) outside to measure ground water levels (this will be left in place to measure fluctuations).
4. Run a LIDAR scan (material x-ray) of the exterior elements to measure damage to bricks and exterior elements. The LIDAR scan will likely extend to the interior of the north wing of 6631 to establish the extent of alignment change and determine the best way to re-level the units.
5. Expose the pile caps to look for materials of construction and signs of deterioration. This will only be required if KCE is unable to determine that the piles are not wood piles that might have deteriorated. Allyn will try to contact the original developer for that information.
The initial investigative work is estimated to take 3-4 weeks. During that time, Allyn will develop a scope of work and schedule for restoring the 6631 building to occupancy. It is expected that work on the 6621 and 6641 buildings will begin simultaneously. The work in 6631 will likely take significantly longer, but as the scope is defined, the residents will be kept informed of how invasive the construction will be in each unit and how that will affect their occupancy. The first priority is to return the 6631 building north wing to a safe occupancy condition.
We are also identifying and screening potential project managers to represent River Towers with KCE and the other contractors that will be hired to perform the various investigative and repair work.
A definite schedule for the completion of the repairs cannot be provided until the extent of damage has been identified. Allyn has offered to provide updates on a bi-weekly basis and we will provide these to the County and the residents as we receive them.
The work defined in #1 above is tentatively scheduled to commence later this week. When we have the exact date we will notify the residents. In order to move this investigative work forward, the work may occur during the night hours when this company is available; otherwise it could be weeks before they can fit us in. Again, as soon as we have the exact information, it will be passed along to the residents. We understand this may be disruptive and we appreciate everyone’s patience as we do what is necessary to get the investigative work accomplished so that the actual repair work can begin as we have all been so anxious to have happen.
UPDATE: January 12, 2017
Background: We have all been anxiously awaiting word on the next steps regarding the work on the porticoes and the 31 building restoration work. Although we understand that the holidays fell in the middle of this time period, it was still too long a time to wait with no word, but most especially for those residents who are displaced.
Our team going forward consists of Allyn Killsheimer, of KCE Structural Engineers, Mike McNamara of the law firm Pillsbury, Winthrop, Shaw, Pittman, Marla Diaz, our general counsel and principal partner at Whiteford, Taylor, Preston and they are speaking regularly. Board member Nancy Rivers has participated in many of their conversations. They are committed to improving communication going forward.
KCE Structural Engineers: KCE has stated they need to review all of the reports, correspondence, and building permits relating to the columns for the last ten years before he can develop a plan and a timeline for repairs and also to determine the specific cause of the partial collapse.
KCE’s first order of business will be to make changes to the existing scaffolding which was required earlier by Fairfax County. KCE will then perform testing at the porticos to investigate the specific cause of the partial collapse that will in turn lead to the determination of necessary remedial work.
KCE has indicated that many decisions will need to be made on short timeframes in order to progress this work, and that the process would be accelerated if the Board could appoint a single point of contact and delegate certain decision-making authority to that individual. The Board will consider this request and work with Marla Diaz to determine if it can be implemented.
Insurance Update: Our insurance coverage attorney, Mike McNamara, sent a demand letter to our insurance company, Travelers, earlier this week. A copy is attached. Travelers had previously hired its own insurance coverage attorney who confirmed receipt of the demand letter. Travelers has not yet taken a position on coverage for the damage.
We hope that in sharing this information with you, you can begin to understand, as we do, the complexity of this project and the effort it will take on the part of a number of individuals to bring it to a successful conclusion. If we can all have patience with one another, we will work together to resolve this situation and move ahead as a community.
To read the letter from our insurance coverage attorney, click here.
UPDATE: December 10,2016
Light at the End of the Tunnel…
After lengthy discussion with legal counsel the Board unanimously agreed to award the portico restoration work at all three buildings to KCE Engineering. KCE is a well-respected firm in the industry, both nationally and internationally. Legal counsel will be going over the contract this coming week, but after that we should expect to see the investigative work begin to determine if there are any further underlying issues that need to be addressed before actual construction work begins.
As part of the discussion with legal counsel last night, we expect to have a letter to send to our master insurance carrier (Travelers) alerting them to the expenses the Association has incurred to date and requesting pay out to begin. As part of this, management will contact each displaced owner to get an assessment of their out of pocket expenses to date. Once this letter is sent, copies will be made available to all residents.
UPDATE: December 1, 2016
Where We Are:
In recent weeks, representatives of the Board and the engineering advisory group have met and/or spoken with several different engineering firms (KCE Engineering, Keast and Hood and Structural Engineering, among others), and with architects, in addition to our contract engineer, (Thomas Downey Associates), to ensure that work going forward best meets our needs and that no single opinion is adopted without proper vetting.
In addition, we have contracted with an attorney who specializes in insurance claims (Pillsbury) to maximize the potential for a successful negotiation with our insurance carrier. The Board is trying to engage KCE Structural Engineers, P.C., to assist the Association in determining the cause of loss and to prepare a report on that cause of loss, which will be shared with all owners when it is finalized. After that report is finalized, the Board expects it will be able to make a final decision on the engineer and contractor who will supervise the repair work. We realize this process has been protracted, and that we are all frustrated by what appears to be lag time, but meeting with and vetting these various firms has been time consuming, yet necessary, as we want to ensure work done leads us toward a positive outcome for everyone. It’s important to keep in mind that this project is incredibly complex with multiple decision points at every step along the way.
We are aware that displaced homeowners continue having issues with their individual insurance companies and while we are not specialists in the field, we have been advised of two things that might be helpful. First, residents might consider filing a Bad Faith Complaint against their private carriers who continue withholding services. Second, it has been suggested to us that if our insurance attorney, who has a solid rate of success, is helpful in ensuring that our master policy covers repairs to the buildings, this could help ensure individual policies pay out as well. Of particular interest to displaced residents is that while there are no guarantees at this time, our insurance attorney is suggesting it’s possible that they can obtain loss of use coverage for you via our Master Policy. Again, we realize there is an understandable level of frustration and we hope that soon there will be some answers for our displaced residents.
Repairs to Units:
We have been advised that some residents are concerned that repairs to units damaged as a result of the partial collapse will not be made by the Association. However, Article VII, Section 1 of the Bylaws provides that:
in the event of damage to or destruction of all or any of the buildings as a result of fire or other casualty, the Board of Directors . . . shall arrange for and supervise the prompt repair and restoration of the Buildings (including any damaged Units, and the floor coverings, kitchen or bathroom fixtures and appliances initially installed therein by the Declaration, and replacements thereof installed by the Declarant, but not including any furniture, furnishings, fixtures, equipment or other personal property supplied or installed by the Unit owners in the Units).
This means that floors that have buckled (except those upgraded by owners), plaster than has crumbled, doors that are askew, and so on, will be repaired as part of the overall rehabilitation process. When the time comes, the Association office will be available to help navigate these repairs and to work with owners regarding how best to cover costs for any upgrades.
While we are all frustrated by the limitations imposed by Bylaws, the Board does not have authority to waive the condominium fees for displaced owners absent receiving consideration from such owners. It is also important to note that while most of the community would appear to support the notion of waiving condo fees for impacted residents, the Association has also received correspondence from several owners who do not support the move, for a variety of reasons.
Heaters in the Porticos:
At the time recent work to the porticos was completed, heaters were installed to try to minimize issues with freezing pipes. Given the fact that the entire portico ceilings have been removed, Minkoff Construction has wrapped the pipes in heat tape to help ensure pipes under the porticos do not freeze during construction.
The Board is comprised of seven homeowners just like yourselves, who agreed to serve in what is often a relatively thankless, uncompensated position. These owners are bound by our Bylaws and by the Virginia Condominium Act and hence do not always have the 'last word' with regard to what can and can't be done. Of late, while there have been numerous expressions of appreciation for work done, there has also been a cadre of residents railing against the Board and management. Please keep in mind that no one is happy with the current situation, but members of the Board, on a volunteer basis, have been working long hours, meeting with contractors and potential contractors, drafting correspondence, responding to inquiries and doing what needs to be done to positively resolve our current situation and, at the same time, doing what needs to be done to keep operations of the property moving forward. Board members have jobs, have family obligations and their own personal interests and challenges, just like everyone else. Hence, by necessity, there has to be a limit as to what Board members can reasonably be expected to do and as to the number of hours they can reasonably be expected to work on your behalf, and we simply ask residents to keep these factors in mind.
Meetings with Elected Officials:
We are appreciative of efforts made by Supervisor Stork and Delegate Levine, who have met with displaced residents. Most recently, Mr. Stork brought with him Mr. Brian Foley, who is a building official with the county, who provided an interesting talk about what happened to the 31 portico and outlined his office’s efforts to streamline permitting for us moving forward, which is appreciated.
While it is clearly useful for our elected representatives to be invested in our property, they do not and cannot know all of the intricacies of work that is ongoing nor of actions being taken to try to positively resolve all aspects of our situation for the Association. Hence, we encourage homeowners to garner pertinent information needed from Management. We understand there is some concern that information has been slow in coming, but, as noted above, after a period of vetting contractors, things are now moving forward and it behooves us all to make informed choices and to allocate our funds wisely.
We are aware there continue to be concerns with ‘communications’. While the Communications Committee will soon be meeting to discuss this, along with other agenda items, we also continue looking into the inadequacy of our current email ‘blast’ system, which seems to operate only intermittently. Related, along with forums as part of board meetings and the presence of our ‘resident to resident’ bulletin board, we are also looking into ways to provide other forums for interested residents. Our current website does not support a ‘chat room’ option and even if it did, we currently have no capacity to hire a ‘webmaster’ who would oversee such an operation, but we are looking at various options.
Representatives from various local media outlets have been interested in our current situation. Please be advised that because of the pending and tentative nature of insurance negotiations, the Association will not be responding to media requests for information.
The Association – Who Are They? It seems from some comments made by residents that there is some confusion as to who comprises “The Association”. The Association is all 525 unit owners. We jointly own every brick, every blade of grass and every foot of asphalt called River Towers. Many condominium associations and certainly rental complexes, hire a full service management company and at one time, so did River Towers. Since that time, we hire our own staff who are Association employees. We pay their salaries, provide their health insurance, contribute to their retirement accounts and offer them vacation and sick leave. We use CFM management for financial purposes only; i.e., they collect condo fees for us, and pay Association bills.
While the Association makes every effort to address the needs of its membership, like any other owner of any other type of home, circumstances arise that an entity, like a homeowner association, simply cannot always address, particularly to everyone’s satisfaction. The Board, its managers, and its professionals are doing their best to deal with a particularly difficult situation correctly. We recognize that some of our owners are dealing with a tremendous hardship, but we hope others appreciate that we are working hard to represent the interests of all unit owners and to restore the buildings as promptly as possible.
There has ostensibly been some recent interest in committee operations. To summarize, there are regular reminders that volunteers for committees are both needed and welcome, most recently at the annual meeting held in October. To further clarify, there is only one committee mandated in the bylaws and that is the Covenants Committee. Beyond that, we have several standing committees created and perpetuated over time with a specific and longer-term focus. While there are currently no ad hoc committees, there have recently been ad hoc committees that were created for a limited and short term focus, for example, pool and trash. There are currently two advisory groups (pipes and engineering), which are comprised of interested residents who perform research in these areas and make suggestions to the Board.
Recently, there was a call for interested residents to serve as committee chairs. At that time, only one current chair (Katherine Smitherman of Communications) had expressed a prior willingness to continue and she was hence reappointed. Since then, Jennifer Nichols has asked to continue as Chair of the Covenants Committee, Mike Sieracki has asked to continue as Chair of the Grounds Committee and Diane Snyder has volunteered to head-up the Garden Committee. All of these residents will be appointed in these capacities.
In addition, every effort is made to assign a member of the Board to serve as liaison to the various committees, who coordinate with committee chairs and provide updates at board meetings when chairs are not present. Melanie Wallace has been and will continue to be the board liaison to the Communications Committee and Jennifer Smith will continue as liaison to the Garden Committee. As Treasurer, Bill Nichols will continue as liaison to the Budget committee. There have been no other expressions of interest from the community to serve as Chairpersons for other committees and board liaison persons to other committees have not yet been appointed.
Related, we want to thank Sherri Lutz, who has served as Chair of the Events Committee for the past several years, and who has opted to rotate off of this committee.
In the midst of everything else, the holiday season is upon us. While we are aware the season has been significantly dampened for those living away from their homes and also for those dealing with the day to day realities of resolving this situation, we continue to feel that some recognition of the season is in order.
While our lobbies are hardly inviting at present, we will be erecting our large, beautiful holiday trees in the 21 and 41 lobbies and a smaller display in the elevator lobby of the 31. Sadly, we will not be holding our usual large holiday event, as there is simply no staging area that can accommodate it, given that our Club Room and hence our kitchen facility is located in the 31 building and the lobby there is ‘off limits’. Instead, we will hope to plan a nice ‘welcome home’ celebration later in 2017, when the bulk of all of this is behind us and our neighbors, now living off the property, can return to their homes. We are looking into the possibility of holding smaller ‘tree trimming’ activities in each of the buildings, and more information will follow should this prove to be an option.
UPDATE: November 23, 2016
So far, the Board and members of the engineering committee have met with and/or discussed our situation with five engineering companies and an architectural firm. We have narrowed our search down to three firms.
Yesterday's meeting was with representatives from one of our engineering firm 'finalists', as well as with our insurance attorney and Association attorney. We have also engaged a consultant engineer to finalize the report to the county that is also necessary for the insurance company.
One of the three engineering firms will be selected to plan and begin executing necessary repairs, most likely in early December. Because insurance is a more critical factor with regard to the more extensive repairs required at the 31 building, it is possible that work will get underway at the other two buildings a bit earlier.
Meanwhile, since the portico ceilings are now exposed, Minkoff Construction has installed additional heaters under the building porticos and has wrapped exposed pipes to help us avoid any freezing pipes situations.
Update: November 13, 2016
Delegate Mark Levine and staff from Supervisor Dan Storck's office have offered to meet again with our DISPLACED residents about their current needs on Wednesday, November 16, at 7:00 pm, in the Club Room of the 6631 building.
* Also, supper will be provided for displaced residents from 6:00-7:00 pm, in the Club Room. Come early and visit with your neighbors who are also not living in their units.
Please let me know whether or not you will plan to attend the meeting and/or the supper, so we can finalize the event planning. You are welcome whether or not you attended the first event.
For those of you who were not able to attend the first event, representatives from the following organizations were available:
- Fairfax County Coordinated Services Planning;
- Fairfax County Housing Community Program;
- Fairfax County Adult and Aging Division;
- Mount Vernon at Home;
- Ventures in Community (working with United Community Ministries and New Hope Housing);
- Good Shepherd Housing;
- Christian Relief Services; and
- Paul Spring Retirement Community.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Barbara Bacon 703-795-4131
Board of Directors Meeting – The Board met on November 3 in Club Room for an Executive Session to discuss contracts. There was an Open Forum at the beginning of the session for owners to ask questions of the Board.
- An insurance attorney has been selected and our General Counsel will be discussing our claim with him and further negotiating with his firm to represent the Association’s interests.
- A meeting has been scheduled for this week between displaced residents and our General Counsel regarding waiver of condo fees for displaced residents.
- A meeting between two structural engineering firms and the Board will be scheduled.
In recent days representatives from the Ad Hoc Committee on the portico work, the Board and Management have met with several structural engineering firms and an architect to discuss their opinions regarding the scope of work required for the porticos at each building. The purpose of these meetings was to determine which engineering firm the Association will ultimately hire to do the work.
Thomas Downy Ltd. has overseen the shoring up of the porticos since the incident at the 31 building occurred. This work was directed by County officials and engineers and contractors have worked to meet the deadlines imposed by the County. For a project of this scope it is imperative to seek additional opinions from other engineering firms. Differing opinions on the scope of work have been received and are under review, so that an informed choice can be made regarding procedures that will best serve the Association over the long term, and that will support the process moving forward as expeditiously as possible. Nothing has higher priority, but please recognize the day-to-day work of the Association has to continue as well.
In addition, several RFP's have been sent out to firms that will potentially begin work on the 21 and 41 portico areas.
Faced with this unexpected and unfortunate situation as we have been, it is important to keep in mind that this situation will be resolved, people will be back in their homes and the Association will move forward. For perspective, please note that a number of other local Associations (Porto Vecchio, Marina Towers, Alexandria House and Belle View to name just a few) have also experienced large and seemingly insurmountable events over the years, which they worked through and today they remain viable. River Towers is no different. As a community, we will pull together, resolve this situation and turn towards the future…all five hundred and twenty five of us.
Various members of the board and members of the community with an expertise in engineering and architecture have met with multiple different firms to discuss their perspectives on how best to proceed. Assuming written materials are ready, the board will be meeting in Executive Session later this week to make choices about contracts and to approve RFP’s for work to be done.
The board plans also to select an attorney, in addition to our chief counsel, with a particular expertise in insurance, to try to negotiate a positive and more timely outcome with regard to our insurance claim.
Our chief counsel continues looking at options regarding how the association might mitigate the burden of condo fees for displaced residents in a way that is consistent with our bylaws.
At this time, residents do not need to arrange removal of all items from their units, as was originally thought. We will advise residents if this becomes necessary.
One of the items expected from each of the companies potentially selected to do long-term repairs is a timeline for completion. To this point, we have been told the repairs will require a three to six month period of time to complete. When updated information is available, it will be shared with the community.
Resident questions should be directed to the site office, and whenever meaningful updates are available, they will be posted on our website, community bulletin boards, and placed in our newsletter bins and/or delivered ‘door to door’.
Notification will be available as soon after the upcoming executive session as is possible to update residents about choices and decisions made.
Supervisor Dan Storck is sending people from his office to work with our displaced residents next Tuesday, November 1, from 3 to 6 pm in the Club Room in the 6631 building. They will be familiar with county programs that might be able to help. Most especially, they can help our residents work through the insurance claims process, even helping them make calls.
The heat is now on in the 21 and it will be turned on in the 31 and 41 by the end of the day.
ANNUAL MEETING HIGHLIGHTS
The Association held its annual meeting and election of officers on Monday 10/17 at the Belle View Elementary School. There were 93 residents/owners in attendance which gave us a quorum and allowed the meeting and election to proceed. In attendance was the Association attorney, Marla Diaz, the lead engineer overseeing the work on the 3 porticos, Doug White from Thomas Downy LTD and Theresa Melson, from USI who is our liaison for Travelers Insurance who is the master insurance policy writer.
Election Results are as follows: Stephen Beach, President; Melanie Wallace, Vice President; Bill Nichols, Treasurer; Bethany Kucia, Secretary; Tom Julian, Director; Jennifer Smith, Director; Nancy Rivers, Director. Ms. Wallace, Ms. Smith and Mr. Nichols were each elected to two years terms. Ms. Rivers will serve a 1 year term, completing the term of a director who resigned.
Reimbursement for Displaced Owners – The discussion was had that owners present don’t want to charge the displaced owners condo fees while they are out of their homes. The Board feels similarly, and is working with our attorney to find a way that this can be legally accomplished. Owners need to recognize that our By Laws and the Virginia Condominium Act control what the Association can and cannot do with your money. We are seeing if there is something that can be done. We each have friends and neighbors who are displaced and we are all disheartened by their experience.
Purchase of the Commercial Space for New Office – There was a lengthy discussion of whether the Board has the right to enter into a contract for the Association. The answer is yes, and they do it many times each year. The ownership should recognize that the Association is run by an elected Board of Directors who are given the authority to make decisions for the Association. For the most part decisions are not made by consensus. No entity could function seamlessly were every decision made by referendum. The purchase of the commercial space was put to the ownership for two reasons. 1) We will be adding additional ‘common element space’ and 2) because there was not a line item in the budget to fund this expense. Our attorney advised us therefore that this particular acquisition would need to be brought to a vote at a meeting where there was a quorum of owners present. That meeting was held Monday night, October 17th, quorum was achieved, a vote of those present was counted along with the ballots which had been cast beforehand and the motion was passed. While there is some consternation that those voting early might have changed their votes given recent circumstances, the fact is that only a handful of ballots (7% of the membership) had been submitted by the Friday before the meeting. The office reported no requests by owners to submit new ballots and so the choice in favor of the purchase, and it was a clear one, was made by those who submitted proxy ballots well after the incident and by those who attended the meeting, heard the discussion, and voted in favor of the purchase.
Hat’s Off to our Residents - Many thanks to our residents who are working to assist their neighbors in need. Barbara Bacon (e-mail: email@example.com) has been working with the county and other local groups to find assistance information for our displaced residents who may have need of housing, furniture, etc. They have also discovered that the county will give the displaced owners a significant break on their property taxes during this time and that there may also be ways for those owners to seek forgiveness of their mortgage payments while they are displaced. Kudos to those caring individuals who are working to make a difference for their neighbors
Update for the 31: 10/24/16
The 31 building laundry room is now open.
The contractor will be turning on the gas for the stoves in the 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19 & 20 tiers on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week. The contractor will be turning on the gas for the stoves in the 05, 06, 07, 08, 09,10, 11 & 12 tiers on Thursday, Friday this week and Monday and Tuesday next week. Notes will be left in the units so you know when you can use your stove.
The gas for the 01-04 tiers will remain off until the repair work is complete.
Shoring up of the 21 portico is complete and workers have now moved to the 41 building where work is ongoing.
We understand that Doug White of Thomas Downey, LTD has written his report of the incident that occurred on October 2 and offered a plan to correct the problems. That report will be provided to the county who is overseeing this work and it will also be given to the management office in the coming week.
Meetings to interview other structural engineering firms to attain second opinions on the scope of work are being scheduled in the coming weeks.
Washington Gas still hopes to be able to restore gas next week in the 31 building to all tiers except the 01-04.
Highlights from the October 12 Open Forum
The Board of Directors of River Towers Condominium Unit Owners Association held an open forum in the 21 building at 6 p.m. on October 12, 2016 to allow comments and questions on the recent subsidence issues with Building 31. Douglass White, a structural engineer with Thomas Downey, Ltd., spoke to residents. Mr. White, who was hired by River Towers Condominium Association, has been working with Fairfax County during the last week on the event that occurred at the 31 building and the investigation of the support beams at the 41 and 21 buildings as well. He will continue to do so as we move forward with repair work. Engineers from Thomas Downey, Ltd. have worked with the Association in the past, including work on the reserve study.
Here are some highlights from the meeting.
SUMMARY OF DAMAGE AND PRELIMINARY FINDINGS
The 31 building partially collapsed because some of the support beams rusted and buckled. The front part of the 31 building that contains tiers 1-4 dropped about 3 inches and some of the columns tilted sideways.
Fairfax County has mandated that the same support beams at the 21 and 41 buildings be assessed to determine what, if any, repairs are needed. Mr. White is still conducting an examination of the 21, 31, and 41 buildings to determine the extent of/existence of damage and to determine the cause of the damage. Once his investigation is completed, he will prepare a report that will identify the extent of the damage, causation, and will propose repairs. Fairfax County has mandated that this report be available no later than December 2, 2016.
SHORING AND REPAIRS
Fairfax County mandated that temporary shoring be put up to stabilize the 31 building so that there will be no additional shifting. That work is now complete for the 31. The shoring on the 21 building is nearly complete and work has begun to shore up the 41 building.
The stone facing either has been or will be removed from all of the columns as part of the shoring project in all 3 buildings to allow inspection of the columns to determine whether underlying steel beams have deteriorated. It is necessary to view all of the columns to understand the cause and extent of damage, and the repair needs for each building. The inspection is not completed, but at this time it appears that the damage to the columns is worse in the 31 than the damage to the columns in the other buildings. However, repairs will be made to restore the columns in all three buildings.
The next step is designing a permanent structural repair of the columns and tiers 1-4 of Building 31. Mr. White is working on developing a protocol for these repairs, which will then need to be permitted and approved by Fairfax County. Mr. White has already met with Fairfax County on this issue in an effort to streamline the process for getting the proposed repairs approved once they have been designed.
The repairs to Building 31, in particular, will be very complicated as they involve not only fixing the columns, but also lifting the portico portion of the building back into place and then repairing any damage caused by the subsidence. Mr. White is currently working with the County, contractors, and material providers to develop a protocol for the repairs. Unfortunately, until he has finalized the protocol and had it approved by the County, Mr. White cannot provide a reliable estimate for how long it will take before the repairs are completed and residents may resume occupying the units in tiers 1-4.
For safety reasons, the structure of the 31 building must be restored to its full strength before residents may move back into their units in tiers 1-4. Although the engineers do not have an estimate of how long it will take to complete the repairs, an initial estimate is that it will take several months to repair the damage at the 31 and to allow residents to re-occupy the 31 Building.
MOVING OUT FROM TIERS 1-4
The Association received requests from several of the displaced owners in tiers 1-4 to move their property out of their units during the time they cannot reside there. The Association has been able to accommodate requests for removing certain personal items and medications from the units, but the subsidence creates certain safety issues for a full unit move-out. The Association is working with its engineers, contractors, and Fairfax County to develop a process by which furniture and other significant items are removed from the affected units. As soon as this process has been finalized and approved by the relevant County and engineering personnel, the Association will begin scheduling move-outs for those residents who desire them.
GAS IN THE 31
Gas will be turned off in the 1-4 tiers until repairs are complete. Valves are being installed this week to isolate the gas pipes in the 1-4 tiers.
Inspections are underway to ensure that there wasn’t any damage to gas pipes. No problems have been identified, but we will have a complete inspection by API, which is required before gas can be turned on. They plan to complete the inspections by the end of the day on Tuesday, October 25, 2016.
Not all units will have to be inspected, as some gas pipes are back to back in some units. In those cases, API can inspect two units at once.
Residents do not have to be at home to meet the inspectors.
If no problems are identified, gas will be restored by the end of the day Friday, October 28th.
At this time, there is no indication that there is anything wrong with the heating system.
Heat is not turned on in any of the buildings. Once the cooling unit is turned off and the gas is back on, the convector system will be turned over to heat by October 25th.
INSURANCE AND COST OF REPAIRS
Several owners raised questions about both the Association’s master insurance policy and problems with individual unit owner’s insurance policies. A claim has been made to the Association’s master insurance policy, related to the subsidence incident. The master insurance company is waiting for Mr. White’s cause of loss report before they state what repair costs they will cover under the Association’s claim. For those owners interested, here is a link to the master insurance policy.
The Master Policy does not cover housing costs for individual homeowners, who will need to work with their own provider around ‘loss of use’ coverage. The Association has provided information for individual owners to share with their insurance companies in order to assist them with their claims for alternate housing. In some cases, the insurance companies have refused to rely upon this information and are demanding additional reports on the cause of loss and the repair plan. The office is going to work to generate a statement that would list preliminary findings to satisfy the requirements of displaced residents’ insurance companies.
Displaced residents with legal questions about insurance should contact the condo office. Questions will be taken to River Tower’s attorney and the association will do its best to help displaced residents with their questions. Residents should be mindful, however, that the Association’s legal counsel cannot answer questions about individual unit owner insurance policies. To the extent, however, that residents continue to have issues with their insurance companies they can contact the Virginia Insurance Ombudsman at 804-371-9741 who may be able to offer additional assistance.
Many residents have expressed a desire to come together to help our displaced neighbors. Anyone who would like to volunteer to help should contact Barbara Bacon at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 703-795-4131.
More meetings, as necessary, will be held as we move forward. Additionally, the Association will continue to share information with owners as it becomes available.
The Association will try to have representation at our Annual meeting by legal counsel, contract engineering and insurance.
Timelines regarding phases of work and expected completion dates will be presented once the engineers have established those timeframes.
FAIRFAX COUNTY ASSISTANCE
The Association’s management office has been in communications with Fairfax County’s Office of Emergency Management, Fire and Rescue, and Family Services to discuss possible assistance that the County can provide to displaced owners. The Association has raised with the County the possibility of assisting owners with their insurance claims for lost housing and the County is looking into whether it can assist with this and the other needs of displaced owners.
The Association will be contacting displaced residents to gather certain information that the County has requested, so that these residents can directly communicate with the proper Fairfax County offices. In the meantime, owners in need food, clothing, and other types of basic needs may contact Coordinated Services Planning at 703-222-0880 to complete an assessment and identify potential resources.
The Association anticipates providing updates to residents as they become available, but will at the least provide another written update next Friday, October 21, 2016.
October 10, 2016
Minkoff Restoration began work on the shoring up of the 21 building over the past weekend and work is continuing today. Part of this work will involve determining the condition of the support beams. Work has also begun at the 41 building.
The Board is holding a residents Open Forum in the lobby of the 21 building on Wednesday evening, October 12 from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m. The lead engineer working on this project will be at the meeting to explain to residents what is being done. The Board will go from there into Executive Session to address financial and contractual aspects of this project.
Residents should understand that Fairfax County is currently leading this project. They meet with the engineers and establish the timelines by when stages of the preliminary work are to be completed. Because most of the work being done has been mandated by the county, Management and the Board are playing a minimal part in the process at this time.
At the meeting on Wednesday evening, residents are urged to recognize that space will likely be an issue and seating will be at a premium. Topics that are discussed at this meeting will be posted on the website and made available to all the residents who are unable or who choose not to attend. There will be more meetings held in the future as information is made available.
We thank the many residents who have reached out with supportive words and gestures to management during this time. Thank you.
October 10, 2016
We hope you enjoy Columbus Day. Even though it is a federal holiday, the condo office is open!
October 7, 2016
The postman has pulled the mail from the 31 mail boxes and all mail is now in the condo office.
Minkoff will continue working this weekend and will be on site this weekend working 9am to 5pm. Beginning Sunday, Minkoff will start to shore up the 21 building then move to the 41 building. Workers will be on site from 7am to 6pm during the weekdays.
Water shutoffs will be limited to emergencies only in the 31 building and may be limited in the 21 and 41 as well.
A gas pressure test is scheduled to begin next week and will last for approximately 1 week as each unit will need to be checked/inspected. Washington Gas will need to give approval for the gas to be turned back on in the 31.
October 6, 2016
As most of you know, on Sunday, part of the 31 building shifted, creating a serious situation that must be rectified. As has been noted, we understand that everyone is anxious for information, but it has been imperative first to address the needs of those displaced by the event and then to ensure information given is as clear and accurate as possible. Unfortunately, whenever something of this nature occurs there is fear and there are rumors. It is for this reason that the following informational items are being provided. Please also note that the only information sanctioned by the Association will be from the Management Office.
We are also aware that some residents would like the opportunity to meet and discuss recent events. Management has been operating in emergency mode and so it has been necessary for all efforts to have been focused upon the most immediate needs. We anticipate providing opportunities for residents to come together in the coming week.
First and foremost, we want to ensure that all residents know this event did not occur because Management failed to address issues that had been brought to their attention by recent Reserve Studies or engineering reports. As challenging as it is, we will get past it. We thank you all for your consideration and patience as we do our best to manage this situation in a way that will best ensure a positive outcome for us all.
- County Code Enforcement has asked us to discourage residents from contacting them for inspections. Any inspections they would conduct would not be limited to items pertaining to this event, but would be unit-wide and any violations they might find would then be the responsibility of individual homeowners.
- Related, they have asked us to convey that had the building not been considered safe for occupancy they would have extended the evacuation and would not have let those residents able to return to their homes do so.
- The columns supporting the 31 building will have to be reinforced. The Association will be making these corrections and as of Sunday night, hours after the event, Minkoff Restoration was on the job.
- Phase One of the work is to shore up the portico area to ensure its safety so that workers can begin the long-term 'fix'. This has been largely completed.
- To resolve the problem in a more permanent way will involve a process that will be invasive and will take several months.
- For the duration of this work, residents in the 1,2,3 and 4 tiers will be displaced and in some instances, their units will need to be cleared.
- Work to correct this issue will include a top to bottom process most likely requiring extensive work within each of the overhang units.
- It is unclear at this time to what extent our insurer will cover costs associated with the temporary relocation of belongings for those units most significantly impacted by this event.
- Residents should contact their own insurer to determine whether or not coverage exists.
- If it becomes clear that the Association's insurer will provide this service, then it will not be necessary for individual residents to do so.
- The Association's Master insurance policy will not cover the costs of temporary housing for impacted residents, and like any other homeowner whose home becomes compromised, you should invoke the 'loss of use' clause in your own homeowner's policy to ensure your housing needs are covered.
- The columns supporting the portico areas at the other two building will be shored up and will be examined for signs of deterioration. This process has already begun, and if work is necessary to ensure their safety the Association will undertake that work.
- For the duration of this inspection/work, residents and visitors will not have access to the drive lanes and should not use the front entrance.
- At this time, it appears likely that corrective action at the other two buildings, if any, will not be as extensive, but it is too early in the process for us to know definitively.
- There has been no discussion to this point of the need to plan for a special assessment to cover the costs of any work that might be performed.
- The costs associated with the work are unclear, as it is not yet certain precisely what interventions will be needed and where. We are hopeful that costs will largely be covered by insurance but will keep you advised of costs and how they will be covered.
- The Association must, of course, carry on business as usual while this event is also being managed, so we encourage some level of tolerance, realizing that staff and volunteer board members are being stretched very thin at this time.
- We anticipate that we will be moving forward, albeit, in a more conservative fashion, with some of the projects and improvements previously discussed and that we know many of you are looking forward to seeing. This is a big hurdle, but it's important that we get past it and keep moving forward as a property.
October 5, 2016
The majority of temporary shoring-up work at the 31 building has been completed. The Porticos in all three buildings are fenced off so that we can inspect the 21 and 41.
Engineers from Minkoff and Thomas Downey met with Fairfax County today to review their plans for long-term correction of stability problems at the 31 building portico and their plans to inspect/correct portico areas at the other buildings, as necessary.
They will brief management tomorrow morning and notification will then go out about what has been determined. It is hoped that we can soon provide a more clear timeline for work to be done.
October 4, 2016
River Towers held a meeting for displaced residents last night with representatives from the Red Cross and Fairfax County. Red Cross provided dinner to Tower residents the last two nights and offered shelter last night for anyone in need of a place to stay. Tonight, they offered one-on-one consultation services.
Displaced residents unable to attend the meeting and needing assistance are encouraged to contact the Red Cross’ Disaster Relief Assistance at 877-292-1600. They provide referral services, such as helping residents suspend cable, and connecting residents to services provided by Fairfax County’s Coordinated Services Planning.
Any residents who sustained damage in their homes should contact the condo office at 703-768-3800. As always residents should call the gas company at 703-750-9500 if there is a strong gas odor.
Engineers worked through the night to shore up the portico and the residences above it, which will be supported with building materials to prevent additional damages. Shoring up the building is a top priority that will be completed as soon as possible. Work will begin soon to investigate any problems that might be present at the 21 building as well. The next steps will be to determine the cause of the problem. Estimates for the time displaced residents will be out of the building cannot be made until the problem has been determined. Once the problem is determined, repairs will be made. After the repairs are deemed satisfactory by Fairfax County, displaced residents will be able to move back into their units. More specific information will be provided as the repair project evolves.
Engineers are looking at support beams first before turning the gas back on. Gas will be turned on once it has been deemed safe to do so by Fairfax County. This safety determination is separate from the determination that will be made about when displaced resident may return to their homes.
The office staff is looking into whether it would be possible for residents access to their mailboxes. If so, the existing barrier will be moved back to permit access. Residents of the 31 building should go to the office to get their mail for the time being.
Office hours remain the same. The office is open Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. and it is open on Saturday from 10:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m.
Update: October 3
Residents of most units in the 31 building were permitted back into their homes last night. The 32 units in the area overhanging the portico have not as of yet been permitted back.
Management has been in touch with relief organizations for guidance on services that can be offered and more information will be made available. There will be a meeting at 6 pm for displaced residents only in the Club Room. We understand that everyone is very concerned and wants information, but we need to focus first on the needs of displaced residents.
Minkoff restoration is on the property making necessary repairs.
Inspections have been made and the 41 portico appears largely intact, the 21 portico will need to be shored up in certain areas. Residents of these two buildings are free to come and go. At this time, the drive lanes under the portico areas are closed as a precaution.
Fire and Rescue remain on the property to escort 31-overhang residents to and from their units for essential items for the time being.
Hot water is now available in the 31. HVAC and gas to the stoves remain off for safety reasons. Until further notice, resident should use the laundry rooms in the 21 or the 41 because the 31 does not have hot water or dryers.
This website will be updated as we receive new information.
Update: October 2 at 7:20
The latest news is that River Towers staff is emptying out the pool house of furniture so that residents can use the showers and bathrooms.
Fairfax County hopes to keep the gas on for hot water, but the gas in the stove will remain off.
Update: October 2 at 7:00 pm.
The Fairfax County Police Department and the Fire Department updated residents this evening. Fairfax County engineers are investigating to find out what occurred. They will be shoring up the portico tonight. Gas and HVAC is turned off for safety in the 31 building. Electricity remains on, but there will be no hot water.
Residents in the 1, 2, 3, and 4 tiers are being escorted into the building now. Fairfax County will escort residents form the rest of the building beginning at 8. County officials requested that residents focus on getting essential items, like medicine and pets. Residents should meet outside the 31.
Please consider offering your neighbors a place to stay tonight. If you do not have a place, please tell the county officials in Bell View School so they can find you shelter. Shelter will be provided separately for pets.
Fairfax County believes at this time that residents that do not live in the 1 through 4 tiers will be allowed back in the building tomorrow. However, gas and HVAC will remain off.
The Police will be on the property all night to secure the building. Fairfax County engineers will also be on the property to shore up the portico. They will also be checking out the columns of the other buildings just to ensure the 21 and 41 remain in good shape.
Please go to the Fairfax County Police's Facebook page or Twitter feed to obtain the latest updates. Volunteers will try to keep this site as updated as possible.
Date: October 2, 2016
To: Residents of the 6631 Building
CC: All River Towers Residents
Subject: Event at the 6631 Building on Sunday, October 2, 2016
There will be a meeting held at the Belle View Elementary School on Fort Hunt at 5:30 to gain further information from Fairfax County as to where we stand presently with the 31 building situation. If at all possible, residents should try to attend this meeting. Fairfax Country has graciously offered to provide dinner at 6 at the school. The meeting is for residents of the River Towers buildings and County personnel only.
Regarding today’s as yet to be determined shift/settling event which occurred this afternoon at the 6631 building, here’s what we know so far from Fairfax County:
- Everyone is to be out of the building until further notice. We don’t know yet if we’re talking about hours or day(s).
- Anyone who has medications or a pet that needs to be retrieved should let the Fairfax County fire department on scene know and they will retrieve them for you. No one will be allowed to enter the building under any circumstance.
- The rear lobby door of the 21 building has been unlocked and the restrooms in the service hallway have been unlocked for 31 residents to use.
- There is a Fairfax County Medical Bus in the 21 guest parking lot which is dispensing water and is air conditioned for anyone who needs to sit down in a cool environment.
There will be regular updates posted on this website as we learn more from the county officials. Please watch here and tell your neighbors to access the website at www.rivertowerscondo.org for further updates.
General Manager, River Towers Condominium Association