A day after a 60-year-old man with a lingering health condition died in a room topping 98 degrees, the city of Columbus has ordered the New Jersey-based owner of The Ralston to undertake temporary measures to protect residents from heat at 211 12th St. or relocate affected residents.
John Hudgison, director of Inspections and Code, sent a letter Friday to the PF Ralston LLC with a list of measures that should be completed by 9 a.m. Monday to protect residents until the entire air-conditioning system can be repaired. They include moving some residents to an area where air conditioning is working properly to relocating those whose units are not working.
Charles Hart, a resident, was pronounced dead at 5:23 p.m. Thursday in his room at the facility. The cause of death will be heat-related due to medical conditions, said Chief Deputy Muscogee County Coroner Freeman Worley.
Worley said the temperature was 98.6 degrees when he entered the room, and the air conditioning was off. After the air was turned on, Worley said, the temperature hadn’t dropped more than 30 minutes later. Hart was stricken by COPD, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, which includes emphysema, chronic bronchitis and asthma. His condition was made worse with the high temperature inside the room, he said.
Hudgison said a portion of the 10-story facility is unsafe because of a mechanical failure in certain units. The building already was facing a deadline from city officials until work is completed to repair violations with the fire alarm system. The director of Inspections and Code has given the owner until Aug. 21 to make needed improvements.
The statement for the city also noted that the owner had been put on notice to remedy cooling system malfunctions through repair or common cooling stations for the safety and benefit of residents.
Travis C. Hargrove, an attorney with The Finley Firm in Columbus and a representative for The Ralston, said Thursday that a company was contacted to repair the air-conditioning system. In the meantime, Hargrove said the staff went out to purchase fans for every resident. Efforts were underway to make sure that each resident had a fan.
Hargrove said The Ralston also is obtaining cooling equipment to create a “cool zone” in a common area for residents.
Mike Berklite, a resident of The Ralston, said he was among the fortunate residents in the building. His air conditioning works fine as long as the staff doesn’t touch it, he said.
“I have air until they work on it,” he said Thursday afternoon. “It’s on now. I’m one of the fortunate ones.”
City issues notice to The Ralston owner
Here are five measures the city has ordered the owner of The Ralston to undertake by 9 a.m. Monday to protect residents from heat.
▪ 1. Moving tenants to areas in the building where the air conditioning is functioning properly.
▪ 2. Instruct residents as to the dangers of heat and the areas in the facility where they will be kept properly cooled.
▪ 3. Ralston staff shall assess each unit to determine its temperature and availability of air conditioning.
▪ 4. Any unit found that does not have air conditioning, which can maintain a room temperature of 80 degrees or less, shall have a notice on the door that states that the unit is not habitable and should be vacated.
▪ 5. Any tenant whose unit is closed shall be relocated at the owner’s expense.