Workers deliver hundreds of replacement toilets to the Poe Homes public-housing complex, which recently endured more than a week of water problems.
Workers deliver hundreds of replacement toilets to the Poe Homes public-housing complex, which recently endured more than a week of water problems. (Colin Campbell / Baltimore Sun)

At Baltimore’s Poe Homes public housing complex, city housing officials had just installed toilets designed to use less water when a water main break disrupted service to the nearly 300 residents in June. Once it was restored, water pressure was so low, the new toilets wouldn’t flush.

The solution: Spend $188,732.77 for plumbers to work overtime replacing the efficient commodes with old-fashioned models purchased by the dozen from Home Depot.

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The Housing Authority of Baltimore City hired two contractors to perform the emergency work amid a water outage that sparked outrage from city leaders, according to invoices obtained by The Baltimore Sun through a public records request. City Council President Brandon Scott called it “unacceptable for residents to be without water for this long.”

Residents of the West Baltimore housing complex, which dates to 1940, went without running water for more than a week starting June 17, forced to rely on bottled water for drinking and to shower and wash clothes elsewhere.

The invoices show that the city’s latest infrastructure failing not only had public works crews working around the clock, but required thousands of dollars in spending on labor and toilets to solve a problem created by what started as an effort to conserve water.

Housing authority officials redacted information on the invoices including hourly rates paid and even the number of toilets purchased, only revealing total amounts spent. Gregory Rothwell, senior counsel for the housing authority, said the redactions were made to protect confidential business and financial information, under state and federal law.

But they left some details on the work orders visible.

One invoice from Crofton-based Vigil Contracting Inc. shows four plumbers working 6½ hours each on June 23, installing 50 Glacier Bay toilets purchased from Home Depot and delivered to Poe Homes. The cost: $9,359.33.

Another from Capitol Heights-based Adrian L. Merton Inc. shows two dozen plumbers working eight-hour shifts to replace toilets, and then continuing to work for as much as seven hours of overtime, on June 24. The bill totaled $16,180 for regular hours worked and $10,558.13 in overtime.

The Sun requested copies of contracts entered for the replacement of the toilets, but Rothwell said none were available — the work was conducted under “an emergency order,” he said.

In a statement released late Friday, housing authority spokeswoman Ingrid Antonio said the agency decided “to revert to traditional, gravity operated toilets that can work with low water pressure” to restore “functioning toilets to the residents as quickly as possible.”

The federally funded authority is separate from the city and Public Works, she noted.

Antonio said the authority saved the efficient toilets, which will “undergo a diagnostic process to ensure they operate properly and are appropriate to be reused at other HABC sites.”

She said the agency was proud of its response, which included authority staff working at Poe Homes to ensure residents had drinking water.

Baltimore Sun reporter Colin Campbell contributed to this article.

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