Hotel given extension totaling nearly a year to address mold, structural concerns |
By Brandi Makuski
A north side hotel on Sept. 14 avoided being closed by the city after reportedly passing air quality tests conducted at the last minutes.
Owners at Comfort Suites, 300 Division St. North, were given a 48-hour warning on Sept. 12 following multiple complaints of mold, moisture problems and structural deficiencies inside guest rooms and the pool area, according to city records.
City inspectors gave the hotel owners, Stevens Point Lodging Group LLC based in Maple Grove, Minn., until 4 PM on Thursday to provide acceptable results of professional testing for air moisture content inside each room of the hotel.
Those tests were conducted by Duraclean, which performed a moisture inspection in the building on Sept. 13, prompting city officials to remove plaques reading “Unfit For Human Occupancy” from hotel entryways on the afternoon of Sept. 14.
According to city documents obtained via an open records request by the City Times, the city’s inspection department first notified hotel owners it would close the hotel in Nov. of 2016 following reports of mold in the pool room and several guest rooms.
“In that correspondence you had until Dec. 23rd  to abate violations,” a March 6, 2017 letter from City Inspector Ximena Christianson to the hotel owners reads in part.
But that deadline was extended multiple times, according to city records. On Dec. 29 — six days after the initial deadline — Aaron Hess of AF Consulting contacted the city to report he’d been hired for remediation.
“[Based] on this we extended the repairs to March 15th, 2017,” Christianson’s letter reads. It was not immediately clear what, if any, action the city took at the hotel property between Dec. 23 and 29.
But by February of 2017, Hess was no longer associated with the abatement, which prolonged the project, according to city records, and in March the company Puroclean was identified as conducting mold testing at the property.
After a series of email communications between city officials and hotel owners, the deadline was again extended to April 25 allow time for a licensed architect or engineer to “provide a statement in writing if he or she believes the building structure is posing no harm to any guest” due to concerns the ongoing moisture problems were, in part, causing concerns for the structural integrity of the building.
That task fell to Susan Lasecki of Plover-based Ionic Structures and Design, LLC. In her report, dated April 27, 2017, Lasecki notes several “existing water infiltration problems”, to include poor condition of caulking around window joints and sills, and lack of weeps above windows.
A series of steel architectural railings on the east facade of the building, which Lasecki said expanded and contracted “at a different rate that the building”, had aided in degradation to the brick, allowing for moisture to work its way in.
Lascki’s report shows she “did not observe substantial structural damage”, adding “it appears that the areas which are currently available to public use appear to be structurally sound.”
But according to some former employees, conditions at the hotel had been deteriorating for some time.
“This has been going on for more than three years,” said Doug Myers, a former general manager of the hotel. “Not only has the city been involved, but Choice Hotels has been involved. Nothing has happened. I finally got [mad enough] that I quit.”
Messages left for Stevens Point Lodging Group partners, as well as Choice Hotels corporate headquarters, have not been returned.
Myers said he’s been in the hotel business for more than 20 years and had “never seen anything like what went on there,” citing extensive mold, moisture problems and structural problems until he quit in June.
Myers also said the hotel was briefly closed by the city in May of 2017, but “some sort of legal issue” allowed it to reopen almost immediately.
“I told [the city], ‘You’re crazy.’ The place just wasn’t safe,” he said. “I first identified mold in this hotel in spring of 2005. I told the owners then, and they wouldn’t do anything about it.”
Myers said he and other former employees have experienced respiratory issues, migraine headaches and nosebleeds.
“I got the city involved because my primary concern was my health, my employees and our guests,” Myers said.
Bonnie DeMeyer said she was employed at Comfort Suites as the front desk manager from October of 2016 to April, 2017.
“There is way more to this story than the city inspectors know,” DeMeyer said. “There was [sic] several employees that got sick and had bloody noses.”
DeMeyer said the hotel’s pool has been down since before October of 2016.
“There was one night we were shut down for about four hours but the owners threatened the city and we were allowed to reopen,” she added.
Myers said he’s done his best to address the situation with the hotel owners.
In a March 1 letter to owners Mehul (Mike) Patel, Rahul Kansara, and Minesh Patel, Myers outlined the ongoing abatement process, but also readdressed his concerns with the hotel building.
“It has been over two years since I have disclosed to you the water damage and mold presence in this hotel which continuously gets worse,” Myers wrote in part. “Nothing has been done to eliminate the mold in so many areas of this hotel, all of which have been documented by [city and county inspectors].”
City records show several rooms are still closed until local abatement companies can remove the mold still in the building — at last count, six rooms were still sealed — and treat to help prevent future breakouts.
But for Myers and other former employees, questions linger as to why so many extensions were granted to make the repairs.
“There were a few issues we’ve been working with them on,” said Michael Ostrowski, community development director for the city, which oversees building inspection. “They have taken appropriate steps to remediate the issues; during that time they’ve been working with the appropriate professionals to ensure the public isn’t at risk. Once we have a professional indicating there’s no posing of harm, there’s really nothing we can do.”
Ostrowski said his office’s main concern was ensuring the public was not at risk.
The city has provided a new deadline of Oct. 2 to ensure all structural issues and moisture control have been implemented. At that time, Ostrowski said the city would “assess the situation and take whatever actions are necessary.”