SHAMOKIN - Smoking will be forbidden inside the Harold Thomas Highrise effective March 1.

The Shamokin Housing Authority board voted 5-0 Thursday night to adopt a no-smoking policy after presenting the policy to residents last month and allowing a comment period.

"I received no written comments," said Ronald Miller, executive director for the authority, which owns and manages the building. "I've gotten a few verbal ones, but I don't want to repeat them at a public meeting."

The idea for a smoking ban gained momentum after a Dec. 13 trash compactor fire at Harold Thomas, an 11-story building at the corner of Sunbury (Route 61) and Dewart streets. Authorities said the fire started when a lit cigarette made its way down a garbage chute and into the compactor, where it smoldered and caused some damage. The fire was doused with a garden hose, but city firefighters did respond.

Under the new policy, smoking is banned in the apartments and common areas of the highrise. Residents can smoke outside, but must be at least 10 feet away from the building. A gazebo on the grounds facing Sunbury Street has been designated as a smoking area.

Those disobeying the policy will be given a verbal warning on a first offense, then a written warning. If there's a third offense, the tenant will be evicted, the policy states.

"We realize that this is an addictive habit, and that people will open up their window and smoke or find other methods," said authority Chairman Raymond G. "Jerry" Splane.

Nonetheless, he said he visited the building recently and found most people in favor of the ban.

Some tenants may want to move Madison Court, the former Center City Apartments building at Shamokin and Commerce streets that the authority recently acquired. The authority will continue to allow smoking at that building, Splane said.

Pamala S. Rhoades made the motion for the policy. It was seconded by Robert Wolfe and approved with yes votes from James Picarelli, Splane and Suzanne Kopitsky.

Averting threats

The authority adopted a second policy Thursday night to counter occasional threats to employees and board members from landlords or tenants with whom the authority has agreements, or others.

Miller spoke of a situation during which an out-of-town landlord said he is coming to town to dispute an authority decision and that he is going to "punch" someone.

"If there is even the littlest threat of that happening, 911 will be called and the person will be terminated from our programs," Miller said.

A motion to add the abuse clause was made by Kopitsky and seconded by Picarelli, and passed 5-0.

Madison Court

Also Thursday, Miller gave an update on Madison Court Apartments, noting new locks have been being placed on all exterior doors and residents have been given new keys.

"There were keys to the building floating all around Shamokin," Miller said. "That has changed."

He said security cameras and monitoring equipment will have to be installed to replace the previous system, which was removed, possibly by the former owners. Repair or replacement of the intercom system is planned, too.

Meanwhile, there is a new laundry system and repairs have been made to the hot water heaters and the furnace, Miller said.

"The biggest problem we have is the fire response and sprinkler system. It is passable for 1989 standards, so we will have to bring it up to code," he said.

Blueprints for the building are in the hands of the authority architect, and recommendations will be made to see how much is needed and what it will cost to bring the building up to code and make it more energy-efficient.

"After that, we will be going to PHFA (Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency) to see how much funding we can get from them" for such work, Miller said. It was the PHFA that gave the authority the mortgage on the building, part of a 3 1/2-year legal battle the authroity waged with the building's former owner, Red Gold Enterprise. That battle ended late last year when Red Gold owner Eugene Picarella filed for bankruptcy and opened the door for the authority's takeover.