The exterior of Sasko Manor in Sparwood showing the sundeck windows boarded up. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

Left in the cold: Sasko Manor residents complain of ongoing renovations leaving their units open to the elements

Residents of Sparwood apartment block say they’re living in the cold due to construction works

Residents of Sasko Manor in Sparwood are living in cold and darkness as long-overdue renovations continue into the winter months.

Multiple residents reached out to The Free Press to speak out over the state of the building, which is subsidized housing for the elderly and the disabled, questioning the timing of construction work given the changing season and the ongoing pandemic.

“They’re building it like it’s an abandoned building,” said one resident, describing going days with windows covered over, lack of proper weather-proofing of doors and windows and construction noise seven days a week since work began in mid-August.

“It’s really cold, there’s a lot of cold air blowing in,” said a second resident. “When it’s -30 outside I’m going to have to crank my heat…”

Sasko Manor is managed by a local not-for-profit, Elk Valley Family Society (EVFS), which also manages Veneto Place in Fernie.

Both properties are managed in partnership with BC Housing, the provincial social housing authority. Work is being carried out by Kamloops-based Progrus Constructors.

All residents who spoke to The Free Press insisted on confidentiality, explaining they felt that “rocking the boat” by speaking up publicly puts their housing in danger.

“It’s hard to get into BC Housing. My fear is they’re going to look for some reason (to evict),” said one resident.

The residents described work beginning in August, with construction estimated by the contractor to go through to mid-December, and some works to be completed “in the spring of 2021.”

Letters seen by the Free Press from the contracting company describe a complete overhaul of the building, including electrical upgrades, new common area flooring, hot water tank replacement and significantly, exterior demolition that includes the removal and replacement of windows and exterior doors.

Residents were not moved out of the building for the work, but were asked to move furniture out of the way and keep their distance from workers given the COVID-19 pandemic.

“They ask us to move all our stuff because they’re coming to do something, then they never show up, and you’ve moved all your stuff and can’t use the room … there are people in this building that are disabled and can’t get up and go.”

While work began when it was still warm, residents said they were cold and had been living without adequate natural light for over a month, with sun deck windows removed and replaced with ply-board, and exterior doors to the decks left with large gaps around the outside because insulation with asbestos in it had been removed.

“I can’t even live in my living room,” said one resident. “I don’t use the baseboard heat because it just goes out the door and we have to pay heat here.”

Another resident described stuffing blankets and towels into the gaps around their sun deck door to keep the cold out.

“It’s so dark and depressing, and the noise…they shouldn’t have started this if it wasn’t going to be finished,” they said. “I can’t stand the dark and not being able to look out my window.”

Residents who spoke to The Free Press described a process that they alleged made them feel ignored by the EVFS, BC Housing and the contractors, with no communication besides notices taped to doors.

Various residents demanded the EVFS manager of Sasko Manor take responsibility as the EVFS is their primary point of contact.

“I want somebody to actually show these people here the respect they deserve,” said one of the residents, adding “we should have been told ‘sorry, we’re going to rip your whole life apart for months,’ and offered us somewhere else to live.”

Seemingly as compensation, each resident of the 18-unit building was recently given a $50 shopping voucher for a local supermarket along with a note thanking them for their patience, a gesture many felt was insulting.

“I don’t need a food handout, I need (those responsible) to get organized and get the windows done.”

A spokesperson for the EVFS confirmed the constrution timeline, with new windows set to be installed by mid-November as part of a major overhaul of the interior and exterior of the building.

They said that measures had been taken to ensure that residents were not cold, however.

“In early fall, BC Housing installed temporary insulation in all units and balcony areas. The exterior insulation of the building is keeping the building energy efficient and should result in no heat loss. If residents experience significant heat loss, we will work with BC Housing to address these issues and come up with solutions. We want to assure tenants that the building will stay warm this winter.”

They added that the works were necessary for the safety and well-being of the residents and the energy efficiency of the building.

BC Housing said that due to the election, it was unable to provide comment, with a spokeswoman saying that information would be available after a new government was sworn in.

Sasko Manor residents told The Free Press they would be seeking free rent and heat for the duration of the works.

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