Crumbling Foundations: Up to 35,000 homes in Connecticut could be affected

A timeline running through the events. (Prepared by writer)

A timeline running through the events. (Prepared by writer)

TOLLAND—As they packed clothes, kitchenware and other essentials on a Saturday in late March this year, Kevin and Aisling McCloskey prepared themselves to say a temporary goodbye to the house that their children are growing up in.

The couple and their three children (ages 11, 13 and 15) are headed to a temporary rental home across town for the next three months while their home since 2006 is lifted and the foundation is repoured for $175,000. Their home is the first in the state to be paid for by the Connecticut Foundation Solutions Indemnity Company, Inc., the captive insurance company designated by the state to assist homeowners with a crumbling foundation. 

The McCloskeys will be left with some expenses that the state won’t pay for, but Kevin McCloskey said it’s well worth it. 

“By paying my $20,000 that I’m out now, I have an asset again,” Kevin McCloskey said. “I’m at least back to market value.”

The McCloskeys received the full amount that the insurance company will pay to a client. Kevin McCloskey estimated that his home, which he bought 13 years ago for $400,000, is now worth $150,000. After the renovation funded by the state is complete, McCloskey said he will have to spend about $20,000 of his own money to refinish the basement and redo the landscape to return the house to its original state before it was lifted.

“We’re apparently the first to be lifted this week as a result of the state law,” Kevin McCloskey said.

Upwards of 35,000 homeowners in Connecticut, primarily in the northeast corner, face the potential of having a crumbling foundation, according to the state Department of Housing. Private homeowners have been the only ones to come forward with the problem, with the exception of Birch Grove Primary School in Tolland, which town officials discovered to have a crumbling foundation earlier this year.

Fire Station 140 at 64 Crystal Lake Road in Tolland has also had core samples taken and additional information will be released at the town council meeting on May 14, Tolland Town Manager Steve Werbner said.  In the meantime, Werbner called the building “stable” and that there is not an “immediate concern” for the firehouse.

The cause is pyrrhotite, the common mineral found in all of the concrete that failed, self-proclaimed “crumbling concrete queen,” Linda Tofolowsky said.

“It took until 2011 to find out it was pyrrhotite,” Tofolowsky said. 

Tofolowsky, now living in Wales, Massachusetts, leads the “crumbling concrete queens,” the group of five women who all suffered from crumbling foundations. Tofolowsky said she was the first to have her home lifted and was the first to bring to light the problem of crumbling foundations when she noticed a crack in the spring of 1992 at her home in Tolland.

“[The] builder told me to map out [the] cracks and measure how big they are and [to] keep a little diagram,” Tofolowsky said.

That builder was one of the many who used J.J. Mottes, a concrete company from Stafford Springs, Connecticut, to pour the foundations of new homes during the 1990s. Mottes got its concrete from Becker’s Quarry in Willington, where all of the pyrrhotite was unknowingly infused in the concrete mix.

Since Mottes was such a prominent pouring company during the late 1900s and early 2000s, many buildings were poured using the faulty concrete, including the Tolland school. 

“We’ve been monitoring the building for about two years based upon the fact that we had known that the concrete for that building came from the suspect quarry in Willington,” Werbner said.

Werbner said there is only one way to proceed.

“With a school of that type of construction, the only feasible way is to demolish the building and rebuild it as new,” Werbner said. “The state of Connecticut agreed with that conclusion and authorized what’s called emergency status for the project and has agreed to pay at least 52 percent of the cost for the rebuild and [demolition], which is estimated to be about $46 million. The town is now going to hold a referendum on May 7 to get approval for the rest of the funding.”  

The Birch Grove Primary School. (Photo via writer)

The Birch Grove Primary School. (Photo via writer)

While the school is being rebuilt, parent Cynthia Flynn said students will be in portable classrooms. She said she is concerned about the many aspects of the project, both financial and personal. 

“I’m concerned about how the town, and its residents, will shoulder the burden of the cost and also disappointed that my son who is entering kindergarten in the fall won’t get the same school experience for most of his time at Birch Grove because of the portable classrooms,” Flynn said. 

Birch Grove’s problems play right into Tofolowsky’s bucket list, which she hopes to accomplish before her work with crumbling foundations is complete. She said she plans to “have them realize [pyrrhotite] is in commercial buildings also.” Specifically, many suspect buildings at the University of Connecticut’s Storrs campus could be at risk, she said. 

There was only one building at UConn that had concrete poured by Mottes, UConn spokesperson Stephanie Reitz said. The Advanced Technology Laboratory, a part of the Bio Sciences Complex on Route 195, is being monitored, Reitz said, in addition to various sidewalks. 

 “[W]e actively monitor and inspect all of our buildings. We also respond immediately to reports or complaints about the conditions of any of our facilities or any indication of a problem,” Reitz said. “We haven’t received any report or complaint, or observed any issue in our monitoring and inspections that gives any reason to doubt the safety of the Advanced Technology Laboratory.”

Tofolowsky said she and the other activists are working with state officials to create enforcement and standards for the construction industry.

“They self-regulate this construction industry,” Tofolowsky said. “Yes, they have all these tests and everything in place, but they have nobody to say if they don’t pass the test. They have nobody to say you can’t sell this material. Nobody is there to make sure they do that.”

Tofolowsky said she’s already completed one of the items on her bucket list, to get financial help for people.  

 Kevin McCloskey said his own insurance company was useless when he realized he had a problem. With Tofolowsky’s work with the state legislature, the captive insurance program is what saved the McCloskeys financially. 

“I’ve been delighted,” Kevin McCloskey said.  

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story stated that 35,000 homes in Connecticut are affected by crumbling foundations. In fact, 35,000 Connecticut homes have the potential to have a crumbling foundation.


Luke Hajdasz is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at luke.hajdasz@uconn.edu.