HRA to build shelter for smokersAs the city's subsidized-housing apartment buildings go smoke-free, residents who smoke will be provided a shelter against the winter elements.
By: Peter Passi, Duluth News Tribune
In May, the Duluth Housing and Redevelopment Authority banned smoking in four of its six high-rise apartment buildings. But come winter, smokers forced outdoors still will be kept warm and protected from the elements.
The HRA plans to build gazebos, designed to accommodate displaced smokers, in front of all six subsidized-housing apartment buildings in Duluth.
The HRA expects to spend $44,000 each on the shelters, for a total of $264,000. Each of the Plexiglas octagonal structures will measure 10 feet,
7 inches in diameter, and will be handicapped-accessible.
The gazebos will provide a windbreak and shelter but still will be less than half-enclosed, said HRA director Rick Ball, noting that they will be equipped with small radiant heaters to take some of the chill off.
He said the gazebos are not only for smokers and can be used by anyone desiring shelter.
By May 2011, the Tri Towers and Ramsey Manor will go smoke-free, joining the four buildings that already have a ban in place — King Manor, Grandview Manor and Midtowne Manor I and II.
Pat McKone, director of the American Lung Association of Minnesota, praised the Duluth HRA for its leadership as the largest authority in the nation to ban smoking in its apartment buildings.
She said that Minnesota’s Freedom to Breathe Law forbids smoking in public places that are more than 50 percent enclosed, such as bus stops. But McKone said the gazebos being built by the HRA are sufficiently open to comply with the law.
“This was a decision they made to try to accommodate smokers outside. It’s not something that had to be done,” she said.
McKone said the structures may help residents comply with new rules and provide them with a safe, accessible place to enjoy a smoke.
Sharla Gardner, a Duluth city councilor who successfully backed efforts to ban smoking within 15 feet of bus shelters earlier this year, said she has no problems with the gazebos.
“I think it’s a reasonable accommodation the HRA is making,” she said. “These are subsidized apartment buildings, but people are still paying rent, and I think it’s appropriate to provide a site where they can smoke safely.”
But another city councilor said he believes the gazebos are a waste of tax money. Jim Stauber, a proponent of banning smoking from playgrounds, said he believed the structures would encourage people to smoke.
“Most businesses have encouraged people to go out into the elements and find a place to smoke,” he said. “I’m surprised the HRA in 2010 would spend a single nickel encouraging smokers. I find that difficult to believe.”
“They need to stand outside just like everybody else,” he said.
But some residents of the HRA buildings said they support the plans.
“I think it’s a beautiful thing,” said Scott Campbell, a smoker and Midtowne Manor I resident, of the new handicapped-accessible gazebos.
“We have a lot of people in wheelchairs who smoke,” he said. “Many of them have served their country, and they have a right to smoke.”
Emily Polling, a smoker and 11-year resident of Midtowne Manor II, said she supports the idea of the gazebos but feels they’re undersized and overpriced at $44,000.
Pat Keogan, a Midtowne Manor II resident, said she’s trying to quit smoking but still is glad to see the gazebos being built before the snow flies.
“In the summer time it’s not such a bad thing, but in winter it will be a different story,” she said of stepping outside for a smoke.
Ball said the gazebos should be completed by November.
The shelters are located a fair distance from the entrances to apartment buildings but in a convenient place for people who may be waiting for a taxi or a ride from a friend, according to Ball.
“It will serve nonsmokers and smokers alike,” he said.
Gardner predicts the HRA will save money by disallowing smoking in its apartment buildings, reducing its need to replace carpet and paint.
“Smoking can cause extensive damage, and I think the savings from this new policy will more than offset the cost of the gazebos,” Gardner said.