By Stuart Hirsch
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
Last spring, the owner of Arbor Village Apartments was considering a plan to replace gas heat boilers in the buildings with an electric system that would have sent tenant electric bills soaring and severely taxed the complex’s aging electric service.
Steve Kreps of Best Mechanical LLC reviewed the plan for owner Tom Stanley and his maintenance staff and advised against it.
Because the complex is only supplied with 60-amp electrical service — standard in the mid-1960s when the 96-unit complex was built — it would be impossible to generate enough heat during cold weather to keep apartments warm, he told them in a letter dated May 14.
Moreover, the old electrical wires snaking through the walls didn’t have the capacity to support the additional electrical load, increasing the danger of fire.
“Attempting to do what you are proposing is incredibly risky and, without a licensed electrical contractor with permits in hand, is illegal,” Kreps warned them in the letter.
Even if the plan did work, he added, tenants could see their electric bills rise from an average of $32 per month to more than $200 in winter.
Stanley declined to comment on these or any other matters when reached by telephone on Friday.
In earlier stories, however, he sharply criticized Anderson city officials, who condemned the complex as uninhabitable on Wednesday, and ordered its evacuation after Vectren Energy discovered gas leaks in the basements of all five buildings.
Although the leaks were not major, a Vectren spokeswoman said, they could have led to more serious problems, which is why the utility decided to shut off the gas.
Kreps said in his evaluation that “the primary objective would be to immediately stop gas leaks in the laundry/boiler rooms. A fire and the potential boiler explosion thereafter could send debris three football fields in every direction.”
He advised Stanley to hire professionals to repair the internal gas lines and replace the aging boilers with new, high efficiency units.
In June, according to Building Commissioner Frank Owens, city inspectors learned boilers were being removed from some of the building units and that Arbor Village maintenance staff was making electrical changes without electrical permits. A verbal stop-work order was issued.
Kreps came into the picture again in late September when Best Mechanical submitted a bid to Stanley for $9,507 to restore the heat and make code-compliant repairs to 12 units at Arbor Village.
Verbally and through a text message, Stanley authorized the work and promised Kreps a check for $7,130.25, or 75 percent of the total cost, up front, Kreps said.
Based on those promises, he obtained permits from the Department of Municipal Development and began the work.
By October 18, however, no check had arrived and he sent Stanley a letter outlining his concerns, one of which was that permits are not transferable and he would need to let the city know his firm would not be calling for inspections.
Three days later, Kreps sent Stanley another letter. He’d driven by Arbor Village and discovered another company — Wells Boiler Works Inc., of Alexandria — doing the work he’d been hired to do.
“This is the first time in 28 years we have been contracted, purchased permits (and) not been paid, while someone else is doing the work,” Kreps wrote.
David Johnson, who runs Wells, said his experience with Stanley and Arbor Village was much the same as Kreps’. He did get paid some money, however.
Johnson said he also obtained permits, installed a boiler, and had it inspected by the city. During the job, inspectors indicated leaks in some water pipes on a boiler should be fixed. They also wanted liners installed in chimneys as a safety precaution.
Johnson said he attempted to communicate this information to Stanley and his staff, but they stopped responding to his emails and telephone calls.
On Tuesday, Kreps sent Stanley another email. Records on file with the Madison County Auditor show that Arbor Village has an unpaid property tax bill of more than $39,000.
It was news that did not inspire confidence, Kreps said.
Stanley’s response, evidently sent from his iPhone, according to a copy of the exchange Kreps shared with The Herald Bulletin, was an angry one.
“I am absolutely sick of you in our business,” Stanley wrote. “File your lawsuit and have fun. I’m done with you and your crazy antics.”
He added that Arbor Village had always made good on its obligations, and he promised to pay Kreps when money became available.
Later that day, Vectren engineers arrived to inspect gas mains and confirmed leaks underneath a building.
By 8:45, the city had ordered the evacuation of three buildings, and condemned the entire complex the next day.
Find Stu Hirsch on Facebook and @StuHirsch on Twitter, or call 640-4861.