Long road home for StoneWood residents after December 2017 fire
New Haven Register
By Robert Koch
08 December 2018

NORWALK — It was a year ago Tuesday when flames tore through StoneWood Condominium, displacing Mimi Rivera and dozens of others from the 54-unit complex along Richards Avenue.

Since then, Rivera and her husband have lived with their daughter in Stamford. But they’re eager to return to StoneWood, see their old neighbors and have their own space once reconstruction of the fire-damaged structure is complete.

“I like my neighbors,” said Rivera, who had lived at StoneWood for about two years before the fire struck. “I like the area, having my space again. Supposedly, everything will be brand new — all new appliances, rugs, bathroom features. I look forward to being back in my house, my place.”

After nearly a year of demolition and reconstruction work, StoneWood Condominium is moving toward reopening next year. While some have heard that work might wrap up in April, Imagineers, the property management company that oversees the building, said in a reconstruction update Friday that it’s looking at July 31, 2019.

Condo owners told to be ready
“As we approach the anniversary of the fire, we look back at a year that has been challenging, yet during which time an extensive amount of work has been completed, an astounding number of important steps made and numerous road blocks resolved,” wrote Karl Kuegler Jr., Imagineers’ director of property management, in an update Friday on behalf of StoneWood Condominium Association.

“When all is said and done, from the replacement of the roofing and siding of the building exterior, to the replacement of the unit interior finishes, mechanical systems, electrical systems, insulation and drywall, to the replacement of the interior common areas, the Association members will be returned to a building that will be substantially a new building,” Kuegler continued.

Kuegler told Hearst Connecticut Media that Imagineers doesn’t yet know how many of the condominium owners who lived in the building prior to the fire will return. But he advised them to ready for the reopening by “having flexibility in leases and other agreements related to their respective living arrangements for the balance of the reconstruction period.”

‘Moving right along’
On Dec. 11, 2017, flames ripped through the upper levels of the four-story building at 100 Richards Ave., destroying parts of the roof and leaving smoke and water damage elsewhere. At least one resident predicted the building would be gutted.

Instead, remaining residents were forced to move out, and rebuilding began throughout the building, initially with crews working 10-hour days, six days a week to strip the structure down to its frame, and afterward with reconstruction of walls, plumbing, electrical and heating systems.

William D. Ireland, Norwalk’s chief building official, visits StoneWood frequently to monitor the work of Viking Construction, Inc., the general contractor, and numerous subcontractors. He described the progress as impressive.

“I was there yesterday doing another section of insulation inspection,” Ireland said Thursday. “The whole fourth floor is ready for Sheetrocking, and they’ll be ready for another inspection supposedly next week. They’re moving right along in there.”

Tyvek protective wrap still covers much of the exterior of the building as work continues inside. Alliance All Trades of Thomaston, Conn., has been on site about five months, installing a new heating and air-conditioning system throughout the building.

“We’re doing the HVAC contracting, all the apartments, all the common areas. It’s all new, everything, all new systems,” said Alliance All Trades Foreman Bill Heslin. “I’m thinking by January or February, we’ll be complete, but the rest, I’m not sure.”

‘Video tour’ of progress
On the afternoon of the fire, Jessica Morales, of Stamford, had just arrived at StoneWood to pick up her daughter from her parents, who lived at the condominium complex. For the last year, Morales’ parents have lived with her in Stamford, but she said they plan to return to StoneWood once is reopens.

“They are doing repairs, but I don’t know when everything is going to be done. I know they (my parents) get frequent updates about the progress,” Morales said. “They’re waiting to go back. There’s been a lot of progress so far. They send them updates, even videos, so they can see what’s going on inside.”

In addition to providing written updates on the reconstruction, Imagineers has periodically provided residents a virtual tour of the work.

“You respect the fact that these are people’s homes and they don’t have the ability to access the building,” Kuegler said. “So periodically we’ve taken a video tour of the building to show homeowners the progress and then we’ve done written updates.”

a carelessly discarded cigarette on a third-floor balcony

Smoking ban considered
Fire investigators, after speaking with witnesses and investigating the damage, determined that the December 2017 fire was sparked by a carelessly discarded cigarette on a third-floor balcony. Vinyl siding and wood construction fueled the blaze. As a result of the reconstruction, parts of the building will be safer.

“Basically, the interior is the all the same, because the fire-resistant ratings haven’t changed,” Ireland said. “But the adding of the sprinklers to the outside decks is big.”

Whether smoking will be allowed inside the rebuilt building or on its balconies remains to be seen.

“The (StoneWood Condominium) Association is in the process of proposing changes to its governing documents that would prevent smoking within the building or on balconies,” Kuegler told Hearst Connecticut Media. “Once the text of the changes is drafted, a required vote of the unit owners will be conducted.”

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