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Talent apartments owner jumps on reconstruction

The owner of a Talent apartment complex jumped on rebuilding quickly after the Sept. 8 Almeda fire that destroyed his newly built units where 50 people had lived for less than a month.

Gil Livni, who had been burned out of his apartment in a California fire, visited the Talent Community Development Department the day after the fire to get the rebuilding process going. Ten days later, he and his crew began work at the site in the 400 block of Talent Avenue.

Livni knows what residents are going through, because he experienced the 1991 Oakland Hills fire, which prompted him to move quickly here. He will give existing tenants the first opportunity to occupy when the work is finished.

“Eighty to 90% called me back and asked to return. I told them yes, of course,” said Livni. He estimates the job will probably be completed in early winter of 2021.

Livni worked with Talent Community Development Director Zac Moody and Jackson County Development Services Director Ted Zuck to get the permits in place for both site cleanup and construction. His own building crew performed the cleanup following guidelines for handling hazardous waste.

“You get testing. You do all the stuff for handling debris the ways you should do it,” said Livni. “It’s just hard when you are working in a project that is destroyed. You are basically moving a lot of stuff. You want to damage as little as possible.”

Existing lines for water, sewer and other services needed to be dug back to points where they were not damaged, said Ray Trepanier, superintendent of the 17-member crew from Magnolia Fine Homes. That included digging under sidewalks at some points.

Livni isn’t stopping at replacing the 40 units. He also gained approval to build a planned second phase that will offer 18 units in two buildings. Concrete was poured for replacement buildings in early November, and subcontractors are now on site to work on plumbing and electrical services. Construction is underway, beginning with the community building.

Building crew members at the apartments the day of the fire helped residents pack up and get out. Trepanier began knocking on doors around 4 p.m. to tell people to get out.

Trepanier left the site at 5:30 p.m., but returned with his wife and a lead supervisor about 10 p.m. when the apartments were still standing. A nearby apartment complex and subdivision were burning, but they couldn’t fight the flames as there was no water left in the system and the trio left at 10:30 p.m.

“We made sure all the people and also all the animals were out. Some of them took people to their own homes,” said Livni. The last cat was rescued at 8 p.m. Trepanier housed one burned-out resident who had no place to go for a week.

The first build began in May 2019. It included four buildings, two that house eight families each and two that house 12 families each. The first tenants moved into the eight-unit buildings Aug. 15. Families were set to move into one of the 12-unit sites Oct. 1, and the other was nearing completion. Livni estimates he had spent $6 million for the 2.49-acre site and construction.

Rents range from $1,250 to $1,450 for the two- and three-bedroom units. There are 12 garages in the two larger units that can be rented. They include electrical chargers for vehicles, and there were also two outside electrical charging stations. Solar panels help provide electricity to the rentals.

Pets are allowed at Magnolia Gardens, and Livni said about 40% of families had them. He handles the rentals himself.

Livni lost his apartment in the 1991 Oakland Hills fire just two years after he came to this country from Israel. He has been living in the Rogue Valley since 2005 and has developed housing in other towns.

A swimming pool built next to the common building is one of the only things recognizable in pictures of the disaster. Steel stairways to upper stories also stood after the fire, but are being replaced.

“The swimming pool will have to be coated inside. Debris stained the bottom of the pool,” said Trepanier.

Livni hopes more people will start rebuilding soon in Talent. He would like to see more funding for the city’s Community Development Department so it speed the process.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Reconstruction is underway at a Talent apartment complex Thursday afternoon.