An editorial providing an inside look at the restoration of downtown's Elena Flats.
Years of neglect and abandonment can have a significant impact on the bones of a building. In the case with The Elena Flats, the structure was too fragile to begin restoration immediately.
Instead, owners Jack Meeks and JoAnn Tredennick worked with specialists on what is referred to as shoring up the property. When a property (typically an older one showing signs of neglect) is deemed unsafe, the act of shoring up takes place to stabilize the structure. This can include several different tactics depending upon the needs of the building. The Flats needed everything.
Before any of the restoration could take place, decades of stored junk had to safely be removed from every room. In some spaces, there were furniture piles eleven feet high! This caused such decomposition and stress that a small tree grew through the second floor! The damage from the weight of the furniture was so sever in some cases that the floor underneath had to be completely removed. The less apparent floors had to be tested for wood rot and termite damage to determine what was safe to walk on with equipment. In some rooms, water damage was so prevalent that entire walls had collapsed, pulling the ceiling down with them. The original second-floor skylights competed with sections of roof that were completely open to the elements. Toward the back of the quadruplex, exterior brick rested between layers of mortar that had literally turned to dust.
Needless to say, Elena was a hot mess. Concrete and metal support beams now hold each exterior wall as well as areas of the roof, ceilings and interior walls.
If all this doesn’t sound critical enough, Elena had become home to a number of the city’s homeless. Imagine, individuals living underneath this delicate weight of rotted Jenga boards and junk. The potential of something dangerous taking place was very high. Contractors had to work quickly to secure any possible entrances into and underneath the building for the safety of such individuals.
After making sure the building was safe to walk through, termite tenting came next. This is a critical (and often overlooked) step when rehabbing an older building. Particularly if the building has been empty for several years, it is very likely some presence of wood-eating critters exists. Fumigating a building can be costly, but it stops damage in its tracks and can avoid headaches and unnecessary expenses down the road. The tarps used to hold in the fumigation are very heavy and because of the size of The Flats, a lift was used to drape the tarps over the roof and the added scaffolding. Our contractor sent us some amazing aerial footage from their droid.
So where are we now? The shoring up process has ended but you will continue to see scaffolding while work continues. Architectural plans are being finalized and once accepted, restoration will begin. For The Flats, the beginning of "restoration" is going to resemble shoring up. The difference is that everything post shoring up is considered an improvement. Stabilizing the foundation, replacing the mostly missing roof and pulling out remaining rotted wood are hardly attractive scenes to the passerby. However, accomplishing each of these critical steps makes way for the less structurally significant improvements that will shape the new look of this long forgotten piece of Jacksonville's history.
Click here for an inside tour of the Elena Flats building
Eidtorial by Charlotte Cudd, Charlotte Cudd, Director of Communications at Jack Meeks & Associates