CHARLESTOWN — With tenants ready to move in, the Churchwoods complex still stands empty because of a water problem that has prevented it from getting a certificate of occupancy.
The $6.3 million affordable housing complex for residents aged 55 and older had its grand opening on Nov. 6 with a target date for occupancy on Nov. 15.
That was until the well was tested, Geoffrey Marchant, who helped get the project off the ground, said in a phone conversation Thursday.
“The water test issue started to come up around Nov. 9th or 10th, and we thought chlorination and disinfection would fix it, and up to the 14th, we were hoping to hit the 15th” for occupancy, said Marchant, former president of the Washington County Community Development Corp.
The complex comprises seven residential buildings providing 24 1-bedroom rental units for senior citizens whose household income does not exceed 50 percent of the area median income. A maximum of two people are allowed per household.
The project was initially funded with $375,000 from the town’s $1 million affordable housing bond. A Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Relief from Superstorm Sandy provided $4.4 million and the Rhode Island Housing Resource Commission provided a $1.9 million grant.
The well for the project originally supplied only the Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit at 4150 Old Post Road. In 2014, when the housing complex was proposed for the adjacent land, additional drilling was necessary to increase the water supply. At that time, a full-range test was done and a camera was sent down to check the well casing.
“Everything was fine, and while the well was 50 years and showed some age, it didn’t show any leaks,” Marchant said.
This time, initial testing showed a high heterotrophic plate count indicating the potential of harmful bacteria in the water such as E. coli, which can cause intestinal illness in humans.
“That started a series of chlorination, flushing, cleaning, draining, pumping and retesting and we did that a couple of times,” Marchant said.
Then the results started looking peculiar, he said. Sometimes the two storage tanks came out fine but the well water test would fail; or one storage tank would test clean while the other failed.
On Monday, another camera was sent down the well and water was observed to be infiltrating the casing at about 64 feet down, just above the bedrock, Marchant said.
The camera indicated some deterioration of the original casing and the solution was to install a new pipe, known as a Jaswell sealer, inside the old casing
“That all got done yesterday and it got chlorinated again and that water was pumped throughout the whole system and the whole system was disinfected and is being flushed now,” Marchant said. “You can’t [perform] a test with chlorine in the water but with any luck tomorrow they’ll take new water tests.”
The state Department of Health requires a full-spectrum water test to come out clean two days in a row, he said.
If the water is tested Friday and Saturday and the results come in clean Monday and Tuesday, then the project can move ahead, he said.
Marchant said some tenants who planned to move in around Nov. 15 were having issues with where to put their belongings. “As of this morning, management, ownership and legal counsel have agreed on a storage agreement and people who need to store their stuff will be asked to read and sign an agreement releasing all liability if they move their stuff in early,” he said.
Accommodations were not being provided to those who vacated their previous dwellings, he said.
“The management’s position on that was no one was ever promised anything, we [only] had target dates,” he said. “We’ve apologized but we can’t let them in without water to drink.”
The Wingate Companies, of Newton, Mass., which is the management company for Churchwoods, could not be reached for comment.
Once the health department signs off on the water tests, Joe Warner, Charlestown’s building official, can issue a certificate of occupancy.