Pa city awarded $3.2 million for high-rise sprinkler systems

Three Wilkes-Barre Housing Authority high-rises will be outfitted with sprinklers by the summer of 2024



By Steve Mocarsky
The Citizens’ Voice

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. — All residents of Wilkes-Barre Housing Authority high-rise buildings will be protected by fire suppression sprinkler systems by mid-summer next year thanks to a $3.2 million federal grant.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded a Capital Fund Housing-Related Hazards grant for $3,250,000 to the authority, Executive Director Judy Kosloski said on Thursday.

The funding will be used to install sprinkler systems in three of the authority’s four high-rise properties — East End Towers, at Worrall and Maxwell streets; South View Manor, on Monroe Street; and Valley View Terrace, on High Street. The three properties have a combined total of 371 units and over 400 residents.

“This funding is a significant step toward ensuring the safety and well-being of our residents. We are thrilled with the award and look forward to advancing the project,” Kosloski said.

Bid specifications are being prepared and a request for bids will be advertised in the near future.

The purpose of the Housing-Related Hazards Capital Fund is to provide funding to public housing agencies to evaluate and reduce residential health hazards in public housing, according to a press release.

“Fire sprinklers are one of the most effective ways to protect people living in high rises from fire. Generally, a single sprinkler head can keep a small fire small, and in many cases extinguish the fire,” said Wilkes-Barre Fire Chief Jay Delaney, who is also a member of the authority board of directors.

Delaney noted that the sprinkler system is activated by heat, not smoke. If the temperature near a sprinkler head reached 135 to 165 degrees, a fusible link in the head melts, allowing water to spray from it, he said.

“We have an excellent fire department in the City of Wilkes-Barre and we have a good, quick response time. But, nothing provides a more rapid response than (a sprinkler system). That’s the quickest response you can get to a fire,” Delaney said.

A fire suppression sprinkler system is being installed at the 10-story Lincoln Plaza high-rise building off East Northampton Street. In February, the authority approved a contract with D&M Construction Unlimited for $2,018,000 to install the system there using other capital funding. The system has so far been installed on the top three floors and is expected to be complete by July 1.

Phyllis Kemp, who will be a resident of Lincoln Plaza for 10 years in February, welcomed Kosloski, Delaney and a reporter into her apartment Thursday to see the newly installed sprinkler system. Orange piping runs along the tops of the walls, near the ceiling, leading to sprinklers in her bedroom, kitchen and entranceway.

The contractor will encase the piping in white steel soffit so it’s not as noticeable and more aesthetic for the tenants, Kosloski said.

“It’s beautiful,” Kemp said of the project. “I think it’s a lifesaving journey that they’re on and they’re going to complete it and we’ll be safer. I feel good. I really, truly do, and I feel safe.”

Delaney pulled out two photos of fire engines outside the building and firefighters working to evacuate residents that he has had hanging on the wall in his office for nearly six years. The authority experienced a deadly fire on Dec. 5, 2017, at Lincoln Plaza in which two residents perished.

“Remember that?” Delaney asked Kemp.

“Yeah. Yeah, it was a very hard time,” Kemp replied.

“But I always remember you, because when we were allowed back in, we had to go and sign in with you,” Kemp said to Kosloski. “And she was a sweetie. She said welcome back home. That was just a nice thing. After all we had been through, she said welcome back home.”

Kosloski said the experience was traumatic for authority staff as well as for residents.

After the fire, Delaney said, “we had to have a plan to try to stop that from happening again. So, the board members that help operate and make policies, we talked to Judy about this and Judy said, this is gonna be a big lift, it’s expensive, and there’s only so many pieces of the (funding) pie.”

“Judy and her staff and the board all worked on this. It was extremely hard. It’s expensive to retrofit a building that’s already built. It’s a lot cheaper when you’re first building a building. But, Judy looked at the board and said she’s going to help make it happen. And that’s exactly what she did. Not only did we get this building started, she worked tirelessly to get the money to retrofit three of the other city high rises,” Delaney said.

Delaney noted that the Wilkes-Barre Housing Authority was one of only 54 agencies throughout the country and six in Pennsylvania to receive an award in this round of funding.

“I think Judy made it look easy. It wasn’t. She and her staff are tireless,” Delaney said. “But, I also have to give credit to our board chair, Christine Jensen, and the rest of the board that elevated this to a priority. And Judy got that, she recognized that, and here we are. That’s public safety, to help you sleep better at night.”

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