Portable equipment was set up outside The Ralston late Friday to help keep residents cool inside the 103-year-old building two days after sweltering heat contributed to the death of a man with a lingering health condition.
“They are cooling the lobby,” said Ricky Talley, a 54-year-old resident of the facility at 211 12th St. “All of this is a good thing, but it shouldn’t have took all of this to do that. I’m glad they are doing something.”
Pumping cool air into the lobby is among one of the five measures the city required of the owner, PF Ralston LLC, until the entire air conditioning system is repaired. John Hudgison, director of the Inspections and Code for Columbus Consolidated Government, has given the owner until 9 a.m. Monday to have measures in place to keep residents cool.
In addition to the city, area residents have come to the aid of tenants by donating fans and cool drinks to help them get through days with temperatures in the mid 90s and a heat index reaching more than 100 degrees.
A growing problem with the building’s air conditioning system surfaced on Thursday when 60-year-old Charles Hart was pronounced dead at 5:23 p.m. in his room. Although the temperature inside the room was 98.6 degrees, Muscogee County Deputy Coroner Freeman Worley said Hart was treated for COPD, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, which includes emphysema, chronic bronchitis and asthma. Those complications were made worse for Hart with no air conditioning in the room, Worley said.
Talley said he was homeless before finding a place on the eighth floor at The Ralston. “They are trying to keep the lobby cool so we have a place to come down and cool off,” he said on the sidewalk near the building. “That is good but, like I said, if they were that concerned about our health and safety, they would have did this stuff when people first started complaining in May.”
Before meeting with the media, Talley and other residents were warned by Ralston management about talking, and a security guard even called Columbus police to remove reporters from the sidewalk owned by the city. Police arrived promptly and informed the guard that the city owned the walkway and people can state whatever they want about any matter.
“I can’t count the number of times I’ve been threatened with being evicted ’cause I spoke out,” Talley said. “The worst thing you could do is put me back out on the streets. It’s not like I’m going to go out there and harm myself. It’s not like I’m trying to draw attention to myself. They have people in there with medical conditions, sick people who don’t need to live in the conditions.”
Talley said his air conditioning works occasionally, and only a little on Friday. He also said the place could use a mop on the floors. “They say they mop the floors everyday,” he said. “I live here and I know they don’t mop the floors everyday.”
While some people are worried about what might happen to the building with 269 units, Talley said there has been ample time to do what’s needed inside the building. The 10-story building was already under an Aug. 21 city deadline to get the fire alarm and sprinkler system repaired before the recent heat-related death.
“I think if the same problem occurs in a year’s time, you used up all your breaks,” he said.
Jack Poole, 69, had no complaints about his third-floor room temperature at 11:30 a.m. Saturday. “My room right now is 81,” he said. “ I don’t have nothing on. “
With very little official information to help residents, Poole said he wished the building manager called a town hall type meeting to let residents know what’s happening. He uses a walker to get around the building after breaking his left hip.
A retired printer, Poole said he also has complications from a wreck in his Corvette years ago. “I had a little girlfriend and she was driving my Corvette,” he said.
As Monday’s deadline approaches, Poole feels hopeful about the progress in the building. “ I believe it’s a good sign,” he said of efforts so far. “We will all know by Monday. I don’t want to have to move. I’m satisfied.”