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Rebuilding homes with toxic drywall underway in retirement center

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After the years of uncertainty the toxic drywall is being pulled by truckloads...

By MELODY JAMESON

SUN CITY CENTER – After the years of uncertainty, the burden of repeatedly repairing the same new appliances, the anxiety of stubborn unexplained illnesses, the agony of slow-moving litigation, the toxic drywall at the root of it all is being pulled by truckloads from homes here.

Four large single family houses on Rimini Vista Way – among the last luxury dwellings built under former developer WCI Communities before the corporation went into bankruptcy – are now or soon will be gutted, to be essentially rebuilt from scratch within their imposing exterior shells.

The four are among about 70 residential properties on Sun City Center’s south side and in its neighboring condominium community, Kings Point, built during the construction boom in the last decade with contaminated drywall manufactured in China.

Of those 70 or so homes containing substantial amounts of the toxic building material imported by distributors for contractors when competition for materials was high and U.S. supplies ran low, about 20 in the community currently are on track for remediation, Dee Giordano estimated this week. Giordano, an accountant, was actively involved with a local committee organized by former Community Association Director Woody Nelson to systematically identify and inspect the contaminated homes, as well as funnel pertinent information to their owners.

Nearly all of the 20 houses were built with Chinese drywall marketed by the German building materials firm, Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin Co. Ltd.,  and now are being remediated with monies from a multi-million dollar settlement Knauf made following successful litigation heard in a federal district court seated in New Orleans.

That Knauf settlement is covering work underway this week in two of the Rimini Vista houses, according to onsite contractor personnel. As construction crews, protective masks covering their noses and mouths, were tearing, pulling and knocking down slabs of drywall from inside the 3,200 square foot Sisk house , a few doors down the street fresh, U.S.-made replacement drywall was being nailed in place throughout the three-bedroom, two-bath pool home of Terry and Sandy McCarty.

Both owners are living in temporary quarters, waiting through the projected 90 days required to recover the homes of their retirement dreams.

The Sisk place was expected to be stripped down to bare studs, ready for an air borne decontamination process, within 48 hours, said Leviticus Mercer, working with a Gallo Building Services crew on its internal demolition. Building inspectors probably would be able to check the interior readied for the rebuild by week’s end, he added.

Meanwhile, over in the McCarty house, the long process of returning a high-end home to a reliably functional and consistently comfortable condition was underway in earnest. It involved not only removal of the poisoning drywall from throughout the house of about 2,000 square feet and the decontamination procedure, but also new electrical wiring, along with a new heating and air conditioning system, including duct work. The home also will have to be equipped eventually with new appliances, replacing range and microwave and refrigerator, for example, rendered inoperable by the high sulfur content in the bad drywall.

Todd Fries, a project manager with Sierra Construction, another building contractor engaged in the drywall rehabilitations, estimated that the recoveries will run $45 to $50 per square foot. In some homes contaminated by the Chinese drywall, he added, even the plumbing must be replaced.

For the McCartys, the journey from beautiful but defective house began with the strangely non-functional or mal-functioning appliances, including the AC, they said this week. The most careful of repairs, no matter how often made, could not keep the machinery running. Then, they learned about the drywall problems affecting homes and their owners all over the community.

“We were lucky,” Sandy McCarty observed, “we weren’t made sick by the drywall as some have been.” But their sick appliances, affected by drywall building material used without their knowledge and beyond their control, were a continuing headache, not to mention a damaged dwelling. Complaints to WCI brought only the response that the developer could not help as it slid into bankruptcy, she added.

 McCartys credit attorney Michael Ryan, associated with a Ft. Lauderdale law firm, engaged to represent WCI and its homeowners, with pressing the litigation as months turned into years that eventually forced the foreign building materials firms into a U.S. court where dozens of drywall damage cases from across the southeast had been consolidated.

Inspection of their lovely retirement haven disclosed Knauf drywall from front to back, more than enough to qualify for a claim on the Knauf settlement estimated between $800 million and $1 billion.

The couple expects to be able to return to their rebuilt Rimini Vista house in September and then “hopefully, put this all behind us,” they said. They no longer will have their 10-year WCI home warranty, but they will have certification that the home is Chinese drywall free. ‘And, we’re grateful it has turned out as well as it has,” Sandy McCarty asserted.

The Minnesotans were not in Sun City Center when the home was being built originally and they missed the pleasure of watching their retirement nest grow from the ground up, they pointed out. However, because of the rebuilding project this summer, they have captured at least some of that enjoyment this time around, they noted. On the other hand, Terry McCarty added with a laugh, “this way wasn’t exactly on my bucket list.” 

Copyright 2012 Melody Jameson

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