The newly renovated apartment complex Stella on the Park, formerly the Parkside Collective, will be accepting new leases as early as June 1. A Sept. 10, 2022 explosion in a utility room forced tenants out of the building.
Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

AURORA | An Aurora apartment complex that expelled its tenants last fall after an explosion in a utility room is reopening under a new name.

Stella on the Park, formerly known as Parkside Collective, is advertising apartments with leases starting as soon as June 1.

On the morning of Sept. 10, an explosion tore through the walls of a fourth-floor electrical room at the complex, raining debris onto the sidewalk outside and damaging adjacent apartments.

Aurora Fire Rescue investigators later ruled that the incident was the result of an underground electrical fire generating hydrogen gas, which vented into the utility room, where a spark of static electricity caused the gas to detonate.

An explosion blew the wall out of an apartment Sept. 10, 2022 at Parkside Collective Apartments, 14565 E Alameda Ave. PHOTO SUPPLIED BY RESIDENT MATT LYNN

The incident caused upheaval for hundreds of tenants, who were forced to evacuate and later told their leases were being canceled. Some apartments were subsequently burglarized before tenants had the chance to remove their belongings.

While repairs to the complex wrapped up this week, an attorney representing former tenants in what may become a class-action lawsuit against Washington-based property management firm Holland Residential said former Parkside residents are still reeling from personal and financial losses caused by the explosion.

“At this point, I don’t think what Holland has done is enough. I don’t think these insurance companies that they’re all insured under have done enough,” Jessica Prochaska of law firm Burg Simpson said.

“This was an explosion that changed all these people’s lives. There were some people who had to move out of state because they couldn’t even live here anymore. It’s just so hard to describe the disruption that this caused for our clients.”

The Sentinel tried to contact Holland Residential for this story, but the company did not initially respond to multiple email and phone messages. After the story was published, a company representative responded in an email that did not address a list of questions which had been sent before.

Dan Tremaine-McCarthy of Holland Residential wrote in an email that the initial delay in responding was because “(t)here are several parties involved in the construction, ownership, and property management of this building” and that “(i)t was a priority for us to be unified in our messaging with respect to those involved and affected by this incident.”

“First and foremost, the safety and well-being of our residents was and is always our top priority,” Tremaine-McCarthy wrote.

“Throughout the process, (the property owner) Parkside Aurora, LLC has directed Holland Residential … to help support and communicate with displaced residents. Holland Residential will continue to manage the property as the building reopens, and we look forward to welcoming back former residents and new residents alike in the near future.”

An explosion blew the wall out of an apartment Sept. 10, 2022 at Parkside Collective Apartments, 14565 E Alameda Ave. PHOTO SUPPLIED BY RESIDENT MATT LYNN

Fire officials: Explosion was sudden, but not the cause

According to Aurora Fire Rescue investigators, the trouble began during Parkside’s construction, when an electrical conduit buried under the curb and gutter on the west side of the complex was shifted out of place, causing the PVC plastic insulation to crack and damaging the wires inside.

Over time, water was able to seep through the cracked insulation, further damaging and corroding the electrical wires. An electrical arc within the conduit could have then produced extreme temperatures capable of igniting the PVC insulation, generating hydrogen chloride gas that in the intense heat would have decomposed into hydrogen and chlorine gases, officials said.

The buoyant hydrogen gas would have been able to travel up the smoldering electrical conduit into the fourth-floor electrical room, where it accumulated until an unknown source of static electricity sparked disaster.

“The explosion in the fourth-floor electrical room created an overpressure wave which destroyed the electrical room,” investigator Derek Haffeman wrote. “This overpressure wave displaced walls in the immediate area and also traveled the fourth-floor hallways and hat channels.”

Haffeman wrote after firefighters spoke with Parkside residents that “multiple witnesses reported the lights in their units were flickering minutes, hours and even days before the explosion occurred.” Many residents exited their units shortly before the explosion in response to a fire alarm that coincided with smoke billowing out of wall vents on the building’s west side. 

Bystanders also took cellphone video that showed smoke emanating from a gap in the pavement above where the conduit was buried shortly before the explosion. Investigators excavated the section of pavement and found fire damage to the conduit and an accumulation of water, which guided their conclusions about the cause of the explosion.

City of Aurora spokesman Michael Brannen wrote in an email that a building permit was issued Feb. 2 for rebuilding and repairing the damage caused by the explosion, and that the repair work was finished last week.

Damage from an explosion in the Parkside Collective apartments. Tenants of the apartment complex have all been told they will no longer be able to live in the building anymore and must vacate.
Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

Apartment manager not answering queries

Holland Residential did not reply to questions regarding what work had been done to ensure the complex is safe for new tenants and what inspections of the property had taken place since the explosion.

Brannen wrote that city representatives had inspected the repair work on a regular basis — the permit allows for a combination of plumbing, electrical, mechanical and structural work.

He said the city’s inspection was limited in scope to the work described in the permit application, adding that the property owner and the engineer who performed the damage assessment after the explosion would ultimately decide when tenants would be allowed to return.

Aurora Fire Rescue will also inspect the building one year after the repairs are completed and a new certificate of occupancy is issued, he said.

While police received reports of break-ins at 18 apartments after Parkside was evacuated, Aurora Police Department spokesman Joe Moylan wrote in an email that no suspects were ever identified.

Moylan said police guarded the complex from Sept. 17, the day after the first reported burglary, through Sept. 27, when residents were allowed to return and collect their belongings. Holland Residential was criticized at the time by tenants who said the company failed to protect their belongings after they were forced out by the explosion.

Front door of Parkside Collective show signs of break in Saturday morning Sept. 17. Residents were forced from their apartments last week after an explosion. Some residents say their apartments were broken into some time during the week. PHOTO COURTESY OF PARKSIDE RESIDENT MATT LYNN

Tenants were initially not allowed to return to the complex, forcing some to leave behind essentials like prescription medication, Prochaska said. When tenants were finally allowed to retrieve their things, some apartments were already ransacked, and Prochaska said some tenants had to leave behind large items that they couldn’t move on short notice.

“And we all know the real estate market in Denver is hard, and trying to find places with a comparable rental value that had vacancies on such short notice is very difficult,” she said.

“Some were able to turn to their renters insurance, but not everyone had it and some weren’t paid out. So it’s hard when you’re paying out of pocket, and you’re trying all of a sudden to find a new place to live.”

Prochaska said Holland Residential had provided pro-rata payment to tenants for unused rent but that the company had otherwise done little to help her clients recover from the explosion.

While she would not speculate when the class-action lawsuit would be filed by Burg Simpson, she questioned whether there was anything Holland Residential could do to fully compensate former tenants for their trouble.

“I don’t know what they can do to make it right at this point,” she said.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct a subhead added in editing and include a statement from Holland Residential.

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