Officials at Marydale Retirement Village have asked the Delaware State Housing Authority to suspend its renovation contractor and architect’s ability to be awarded contracts on publicly funded projects, citing faulty work that led to dangerous mold conditions at the low-income housing development in Newark.
The debarment requests were filed May 26 with Susan Eliason, director of housing development for DSHA, against contractor Leon N. Weiner and Associates and architectural and engineering firm Kitchen and Associates Services Inc.
The requests with the state are intended to protect the public from contractors who “should not be trusted,” said Mark Reardon, an attorney for Marydale.
“Rather than correct their corner cuts, they’ve spent almost three years denying responsibility and blaming each other,” he said.
An independent analysis of construction work performed at Marydale determined defects in the work led to mold and subsequent environmental remediation at the affordable housing community managed by Diocese of Wilmington Catholic Charities through Catholic Ministries to the Elderly, Inc.
A rededication of the facility happened in 2018 after more than $8 million of improvements were completed at the 18-acre complex. Campus renovation of apartment interiors and exteriors as well as community facilities were completed in nearly two years. The complex consists of 108 one-bedroom, garden-style apartments arranged in a series of nine courtyards for seniors who qualify as low-income.
The funding for Marydale’s remodeling came through a federal program that spurs banks, corporations and financial groups to invest in community projects to gain low-income housing tax credits. Delaware State Housing Authority manages the low-income housing tax credit program in the state.
The debarment requests cite poor performance on the project by LNWA and Kitchen. “Adequate grounds exist for DSHA to initiate suspension and debarment proceedings,” according to the requests filed by Marydale. The action would prevent the two firms from bidding on any publicly funded project for one year for a first offense, three years for a second offense and permanently for a third offense.
The two firms “poor work performance on this project continues to inflict upon Marydale’s elderly, health-compromised residents direct health risks and unnecessary anxiety. Medical experts confirm an elderly resident demographic has higher vulnerability to mold risk and related health hazards than a younger, healthier population.”
The requests say the performance of the two companies demonstrates “not only a complete disregard of its clear contractual obligations, but also a complete disregard for the well-being of residents of low-income housing and the privilege of the public’s trust.”
The filings with the state say that for nearly three years both firms have rejected efforts for long-term remediation of the excessive mold conditions and calculates the cost of fixing the problem at $4.4 million. Marydale cites conclusions of an independent expert witness report compiled by Gipe Associates, Inc.
The poor performance “was motivated by an express desire by LNWA to increase profits at the unfortunate expense of the Marydale residents’ health and safety,” according to the filings.
Regarding the HVAC portion of the project budget, LNWA’s Chad Reynolds writes that Kitchen should: “Beg, borrow and steal, but remove $50,000 from the overall HVAC cost (We’ll probably use lower end equipment),” according to the filings with the state.
“It is obvious that LNWA … enabled, condoned and promoted the cost-cutting design that was later determined to be a direct cause of the mold issues present at Marydale.”
Marydale reported to the state that ductwork did not meet contract standards and inadequate HVAC units were used to complete the work, among other deficiencies. “The change to panned ductwork resulted in excessive penetration of humidity causing the mold conditions that persist today.
“LNWA submitted pay applications which falsely certified that all work was in accordance with the contract documents when it clearly knew that this was not the case,” according to the debarment requests. “Rather than adhere to a contract requirement, LNWA opted to add to its own profit.”
The filings describe the approach of the contractor and architect “to deny, deflect and delay,” instead of acknowledging and fixing the problems that have caused the mold.
The property receives rental assistance from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and eligible residents pay no more than 30 percent of their adjusted income for rent.
A message left for Eliason was returned by a spokesperson at DSHA who said she would have no comment, citing legal review by the state agency.
Messages left with Glenn Brooks of LNWA and Stephen Schoch of Kitchen and Associates were not immediately returned.
The firms should be suspended from bidding on any construction involving public funds, Reardon said. “They are irresponsible and should not have that privilege.”
Faulty planning and construction created “latent defects” causing mold and mildew due to “various acts of negligence, fraud, breaches of contract, breaches of warranty,” according to a 2019 lawsuit filed by Marydale Preservation Associates and Catholic Ministry to the Elderly
Following completion of the project, in summer of 2018, Marydale staff received reports of high humidity conditions in certain residential units, according to the lawsuit, which stated representatives of Weiner were notified of the humidity conditions, but blamed factors such as resident’s behavior for creating the conditions. Beginning in approximately September 2018, Marydale residents and staff began to observe mold and mildew in certain residential units.
The lawsuit states Marydale, at its own cost, retained various outside experts, consultants, and hygienists to inspect all residential units and to remediate the mold and mildew. Marydale at the time had spent more than $240,000 in costs related to the inspection and remediation. The lawsuit is awaiting trial in Superior Court of Delaware.
“These contractors have avoided their responsibilities at Marydale,” he said. “We expect a Delaware judge and jury may get their attention.”