Rapid housing development can come with dangerous consequences

Mark Hammontree

On Friday I donned my pirate costume I debuted last Halloween and executed a conquest of Krispy Kreme. The man behind the counter asked if I cared if my free dozen of donuts were hot. “Aye, matey, it’d be preferable, lest ye want to walk the plank.” After a short wait, a few friends and I emerged victorious in plundering the promised treasure and began our voyage across the McFarland Ocean to make port at The Lofts.

We first met foul waters at the intersection of 13th and McFarland where the red lights were out of commission because a large RV – or Spanish galleon – had apparently charged a power pole, causing outages to the immediate area. The outage caused no shortage of frustration for me and my crew, but with some savvy navigation by my first mate, we were able to finally dock at The Lofts. The realization that the buildings, too, were out of power forced us to adjust our plans for where to hide out while eating our donuts. We made plans to sail to another apartment but first had to ascen d the building for supplies.

Now, a s it is not my home port, I was unfamiliar with the technical workings of the building’s doors. I had assumed that even though the power was out, the fob-operated external doors would surely still be accessible. I was mistaken, as the doors apparently relied on the building’s power grid rather than their own power source. Luckily, another seaman was already inside the building and was able to let us in as the door opens manually from the in side.

In the middle of this particular building, one of the newer additions to The Lofts, is an oasis complete with pool and hammocks. To gain access to the courtyard, you have to fob in much like you do to get in the building. To re-enter the building from the courtyard, as I understand it, you have to push a button to unlock the door. Due to the power outage, the poor souls who had been out by the pool when the power went out were now marooned in their paradise, the door unable to be opened manually from either side due to its reliance on the 
bui lding’s power.

He re I’ll break from my pirate character, because this is actually a very important matter. When The Lofts lost power, the residents and guests who were out in the inner courtyard became trapped. When my friends and I passed, a woman was attempting to open the door to let her friends in, but because the locks on the door required power to be disengaged, the door couldn’t be opened from either side. Thankfully, this power outage was just the result of an RV hitting a pole, but what if this had happened during some event of extreme 
weather or a fire?

Let’s say the power had gone out and a fire began somewhere in the building. If the fire department for any reason was unable to respond in time or the fire spread faster than expected, anyone in the courtyard would be in a death trap with no means of escape. There may very well be a building administrator somewhere with an old-fashioned key that could unlock the door manually, but in the event of emergency, there may not be time to wait for that or to even wait for a fireman to break through the glass doors. There is a reason we have building codes, and while I’m no expert by any means, I feel pretty certain the doors to the inner courtyard at The Lofts constitute a fire hazard.

That this happened at one of the many new apartment buildings that have popped up so quickly around Tuscaloosa raises concern over the integrity and safety of these buildings. Let’s not forget that much of the land these complexes are being built on was cleared by a vicious tornado that hit without much warning. I hope that The Lofts has already sorted out the issue with their doors, because I hate to think of what could happen if they don’t. So to all the developers and landlords: make sure ye 
 apartments are ship-shape, savvy?

Mark Hammontree is a junior majoring in secondary education language arts. His column runs weekly.