Oliver Park Place residents get vacate notice

South Okanagan residents get shock hearing they must vacate building because of structural damage

It is not unusual for residents of Oliver’s Park Place to hear strange sounds and sights these days.

After 24 years of standing as a “beautiful” building, resident Stuart Syme said it has become haunted due to structural damage from an earthquake.

“Things started to add up, our maintenance records began to spike with failing window seals, swinging doors, doors that wouldn’t close, drywall cracks in some of the suites, nail pops out of the drywall. Prior to that it was 24 years of no problems,” said Syme, who is the secretary of the self-managed strata council. “It turns out we are 100 feet from a fault line. We didn’t know that, and that 4.6 magnitude earthquake in the morning of Nov. 18, 2011, destabilized this building. As an ongoing basis the water levels are quite high right now and our storm water outfall goes to the river and is below the level of the river. I’m sure that happens every year, but this year because the building is unstable and last year as well probably, that destabilization caused by the earthquake has allowed the groundwater to move the building.”

The residents that live in the 43 units are facing uncertainty as they have been given notice it is not safe to live in and an order to vacate hangs over their heads.

“We are telling people that they should plan on being out for two years,” said Syme, adding that is if the insurance company intends to repair the building.

The residents now live amongst a pseudo-construction zone with exposed beams and orange spray paint reminding them of the cracks and dangers that have put them in this situation. Many of the residents are widows, said Syme, the oldest being 98 years old.

“It was particularly distressing over the weekend because we got the letter on Thursday and had to wait to have everyone there for a town hall-type meeting. I think many were in disbelief and in a denial phase up until the meeting, thinking, ‘I’m not really going to have to move’ or ‘I am not really going to have to take all my belongings out of here.’ All of that is gone, people are in the ‘what am I going to do now mode, what is my next step?’”

Syme said there is real concern about the lack of rental accommodations in Oliver. The first floor of Park Place must be off the premises by Aug. 15. The second and third floors have to be out by the beginning of September, unless something untoward happens then it could be sooner.

“It is really difficult here and we are mixture of 65 to 75-year-old couples and 80 to 95-year-old widows. Some of the widows living alone now moved in here 25 years ago and it is extremely difficult for them because they are on fixed incomes. This building is their life because the location is excellent, the community is wonderful within the building and the town, they have their routines and comfort and all of a sudden you rip that from under them. What do you do if you are one of these people?” said Syme.

The strata council has started to make evacuation plans and are trying to gather as much information as they can about possible rentals and storage spaces for the residents. Some are considering moving into Heritage House, an assisted living residence. Syme said while Park Place came across the structural damage during what was supposed to be just an envelope inspection ordered by strata council maintenance committee, he wonders if other buildings in the area have the same issues.

“I bet you there is others, but they just don’t know yet. There are other similar strata buildings in the vicinity,” he said.

Bob Ellis is a resident of Park Place who has devoted his life to filling containers with clothing and other things to places like Moldova through a program called For the Least of These with his church. Despite facing the same uncertainty as his neighbours, Ellis is now looking to help those right within his community.

“Not everyone is in the position to afford everything and many will be in a position of still having to pay for their mortgage even though they can’t live here. I think there is a number of people in the community and within the (churches)  of Oliver who would be willing to help with basic stuff like offering hands to help move. It may be simple things but anything people can do is helpful,” said Ellis. “People living here have a really good spirit and that is what we are holding on to.”

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