State sues over odors
that closed building

Contractors renovated the old brewery
into a elderly services center

Seventy-four-year-old David Ventzke misses the quilting classes and Christmas parties with neighbors at the 104-year-old Royal Brewery building in Kakaako, which now stands empty.

"It's a dirty shame that building has to be closed up," said Ventzke, who lives at Honuakaha Senior Housing next door to the five-story brick building, where Primo and Royal beers were once brewed.

After an eight-year stink raised over lingering chemical odors, the state sued the contractor that renovated the historic building at 547 Queen St., also known as the American Brewery building.

The state contends noxious chemical odors and fumes continue to emanate from the building's interior, which have caused tenants to suffer headaches, dizziness and nausea.

"They should have done something right away," Ventzke said. "I hope they do something, but I'll probably be 6 foot under before that happens."

Hawaii Community Development Authority sued G.W. Murphy Construction Co., which was awarded the contract in 1994 and completed renovations in 1995.

Also named were the companies involved in the manufacture and application of a termite treatment and wood preservative, including Osmose Wood Preserving Inc., OM Group Inc., PermaPost Products Co. and Rinell Wood Systems Inc.

The state is seeking compensation for money already spent and money required for future expenses to rid the building of the odors, which included installing blowers and removing flooring and windows on its top three floors.

Catholic Charities Elderly Services established the Kakaako Senior and Community Center on the first three floors in 1996, but was forced close its doors two years later because the odors caused some people to experience dizziness, headaches, nausea and burning eyes.

Stella Wong, executive director of Catholic Charities, said the new-paint smell wouldn't go away, and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration discovered the air quality could be hazardous to children and the elderly.

"As a senior center, we decided not to take that liability for the staff and the senior center," she said.

Although it paid $20 for a 20-year lease, the agency still lost about $5,000 by signing five-year leases on office equipment used for two years.

But the greater loss came to seniors who either had to travel to other senior centers, or ended up not pursuing activities.

Wong said the state invited Catholic Charities to join the lawsuit, but it declined.

"We decided the attorneys' fees would have killed us more than we could gain back," she said.

The building was occupied as recently as April by a handful of staffers and volunteers of the Volunteer Legal Services Hawaii, which continues to use storage space there.


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