The historic Bon Air Apartments have been under the microscope of local officials for the past several months with the Augusta fire marshal releasing a report of multiple violations found in a March 15 inspection.
Representatives from Redwood Housing, who operate the Bon Air Apartments, located at 2101 Walton Way, say they have been focused on security issues and believed the fire marshal was conducting an annual inspection.
Instead, inspectors seemed to empty their red pens finding violations, citing flammable materials stored in the basement and other storage areas as well as missing fire extinguishers and unlit emergency exit signs.
Inspectors also found violations that some might consider significant, such as requiring the company to install a working exhaust hood in the former hotel’s kitchen, which has not been used in decades.
All of the major issues found by the fire marshal were rectified immediately, according to Chuck Rullman, Redwood Housing general counsel, Randall McElfresh, senior construction manager, and Nick Bohem, director of acquisitions.
“Most of the items have been resolved, and we have the last few that we are working through, keeping the fire department in the loop to complete by the (April) 15th,” McElfresh said.
The company’s representatives say they are keen to address security issues that have come to their attention. The company has installed alarms on all emergency doors, has a security guard checking IDs at the main entrance 24 hours a day and plans to have cameras installed all over the property, inside and out.
“We’ve got a new swipe card reader access system going in, a new phone line from Comcast that will provide history and documentation of that and that is really effective because it requires accountability for tenants coming in and out and not allow tailgaters to come in,” McElfresh said.
While Redwood Housing has to abide by Section 8 housing stipulations in terms of who is eligible to live there, the company does have in place house rules to assure that the building remains a safe atmosphere for both tenants and nearby neighbors.
According to Boehm, Redwood Housing is sensitive to the history of the former grand hotel, which was built in 1923 to replace the original Bon Air Hotel that burned to the ground two years earlier.
“The same architect who designed this building did Grand Central Station in New York City in the 1910s. We know Bobby Jones used it as the inaugural location to host the Masters Tournament. The Rockefellers used to come and spend time there in the winter, presidents have stayed there…It really is a beacon on the Hill,” Boehm said.
Local residents have long suggested that the building’s historic nature makes it a poor fit for public housing and that it should be restored and repurposed in a manner more befitting its renown.
However, there is a problem with such sentiments. While the building certainly would be the perfect spot for luxury apartments or student housing, it was designated as Section 8 housing long before Redwood bought the property a little more than a year ago.
Such a designation stays with the building regardless of who owns it, so according to Section 8 rules, the building will remain income controlled until at least 2055.
The representatives of Redwood say that the company is currently applying for tax credits that will aid them in a future overhaul of the building that will specifically embrace the building’s history. While the palm courts and five star restaurants are long gone, Redwood’s plan is to complete a multi-year renovation that will affect every unit.
“We are excited to be invested in the Augusta community and providing high quality affordable housing for the elderly, disabled and all of our tenants…We are a mission driven company,” Boehm said.