In an effort to return the residents of eight apartments affected by last Tuesday’s fire at the Groton Inn to their homes, the Groton Board of Health held a special meeting Monday night to review housing and health violations and set a course to get the families safely back in their homes. Two four-unit buildings, called Buildings 2 and 3, are located behind the ruined inn at 128 Main Street. Both buildings were condemned by Health Inspector Ira Grossman after the fire because the fire interrupted water, sewer, and electric service to the apartments. Without utilities, no one may live in the apartments. The inn itself was not a topic at the meeting.
The night of the fire, five volunteers from American Red Cross of Central MA responded to the fire, according to Nicole Valentine, the chapter’s Director of Emergency Services/Public Affairs. “Six families (12 individuals) were interviewed and provided emergency assistance on a case by case basis of verified need,” according to the Red Cross. Those families were provided lodging in a Super 8 Motel in Leominster the night of the fire.
Since then, George Pergantis, owner of the inn and apartment buildings, has been paying his tenants’ motel bills. Pergantis and his wife, Gloria, were staying in one of the apartments and moved to a house they own.
The remaining two tenants found emergency shelter on their own. Friends from the First Parish Church of Groton helped Paul Henry Bachteler find a place to stay in Groton. Bachteler’s apartment was the only apartment in the inn building, at the end of a long “L” extension stretching away from Main Street. His apartment was the only unit destroyed by the fire. He lost a considerable amount of personal property — his clothes, household goods and furniture. Jay Patel and his family, who rented apartment #4 in the detached buildings, stayed briefly with a friend in Ayer before renting an apartment there on Monday.Because Pergantis’s buildings were condemned, even briefly, they must be fully inspected and deemed safe before a certificate of occupancy is issued and the tenants can move back in. Grossman’s visual inspection of the outsides of the buildings and the common areas inside — hallways, stairs and landings — turned up five serious problems that “impair public health” and require immediate fixes, and nine less serious that need to be fixed within 30 days. Grossman’s initial inspection of the property was incomplete because tenants had been evacuated and he didn’t enter any apartments. He told Pergantis and board members Robert Fleischer, Susan Horowitz and Jason Weber that a full re-inspection may turn up additional problems.
Most of the problems have already been fixed, an obviously tired Pergantis told the Board of Health. He apologized for appearing at the meeting unwashed, saying that he had been working on the problems all day, and without running water he couldn’t shower before the meeting.
Electrical service was restored to the properties last Friday. A new water main will be installed on Wednesday and would probably be finished and connected to the apartment buildings on Thursday.
Grossman listed the other serious problems as an unsafe stairway and landing that doesn’t meet state building code, the need for secure entry doors on the buildings, and the possibility that lead paint is peeling from the exterior of the buildings. Grossman pointed out that because one child under the age of six was among the tenants, that tougher state lead paint standards apply than if all tenants were adults.
The child, Jay Patel’s son Dhruv, is now living with his parents in an apartment in Ayer. Patel said the family will stay in Ayer for a month or so, until they can move back to Pergantis’s building. The Patels have lived in Groton for 3.5 years, since Dhruv was born. Patel manages the Country Farm convenience store on Main Street, across from the inn complex.
The board voted to have Grossman reinspect the property when Pergantis verifies that the utilities are working and the five violations that impair public health are either fixed or under contract to be fixed within 30 days — fixing the stairway, entry door and lead paint testing and remediation could require some time to accomplish. Grossman told the board: “The lead takes on a time frame of its own. You could consider occupancy of the building with the understanding that the lead will be taken care of.”
If the re-inspection goes well, and the property passes additional inspections by the town building commissioner and fire department, an occupancy permit would be issued. With the permit in hand, Pergantis could let his tenants move back in.
Any remaining health and building code violations — repairing broken windows and screens, securing garbage and rubbish areas, patching holes in a ceiling and wall also must be fixed within 30 days.