By JOHN HOWELL Chris Fontaine wasn't looking for accolades, but rather to correct an injustice and help out a Warwick family who lost their home to fire - and then lost the chance of having it rebuilt, due to the unscrupulous actions of a man whose
Chris Fontaine wasn’t looking for accolades, but rather to correct an injustice and help out a Warwick family who lost their home to fire – and then lost the chance of having it rebuilt, due to the unscrupulous actions of a man whose claims of being able to help they trusted.
A general contractor who specializes in the construction of high-end homes, Fontaine mapped out a plan to rebuild the Huron Street home belonging to Eric Boronski. He drew upon his own company, contractors he knew and the generosity of suppliers, plus a giant fundraiser to wrap up the project earlier this spring.
He and a volunteer crew got a jump on things in February, building a new roof to the house in a single day. After going through several false starts and promises of help, Eric, his wife, Brenda, and daughter, Rachel, felt that they were on the path to returning to the house that was extensively damaged in an August 2018 fire.
Then the rug was pulled out from everything by COVID-19.
The April 4 fundraiser that Joe and Marie Cavanaugh and others had planned to raise the money for materials at Evolution Sports was canceled. Faced with uncertainties caused by the pandemic and under pressure to complete jobs he was working on, Fontaine had other priorities. But he didn’t forget the Boronskis and the commitment he had made to himself to help them.
That manifested itself Saturday when an all-volunteer crew returned to the house armed with the tools and the muscle to pick up where they had left off. Sheets of plywood were pulled from the grass in the backyard, brushed off, measured and cut to continue the exterior siding where needed.
“I think this house is going to be an amazing home when it’s done,” said Eric, standing back from the activity with his wife and daughter. The family has been living in a rental apartment and in constant fear of a landlord, who Eric says is trying to force them out. Faced with paying the mortgages and taxes on the property under reconstruction and being laid off from his job as a driver for a car dealership, Eric said he’s had trouble with the rent. Fortunately, he said, “someone stepped forward with rent for June.”
Eric said he is collecting unemployment plus the $600 weekly federal unemployment benefit, which actually is giving him more than he had been making. That has allowed for him to put some aside for the reconstruction of the home. That’s hardly going to do the job.
When Fontaine and his brother voluntarily took on the project, they asked to have their last names and the company name omitted from any story.
“This is not about us. This is about Eric and his family and doing the right thing for them. This is just the right thing to do,” Chris said at the time.
He was able to get donations of materials from Arnold Lumber and Trussco Inc. and had talked to electricians, plumbers and others who said they wanted to help. With the hiatus caused by the virus, many of those people are facing issues of their own and can’t commit to the job.
Fontaine decided it was time to make a public appeal and reveal that he and his brother are spearheading the rebuilding. They turned to social media and almost instantly received an overwhelming response. Part of his appeal to tradesmen was if they aren’t working to join the team and help. He said he has the manpower and materials to bring the house to the point for interior walls, but to proceed he needs an electrician and plumber to pull permits for that work. He is also hopeful of finding a forced hot air system, perhaps a used but relatively new one as a donation.
So far he estimates $40,000 to $50,000 of improvements have been invested in the property. Some of the hard cash has come from the insurance claim, but not all that much.
Before the fire, Eric was drawn to Peace and Providence when it opened on Warwick Avenue. The mission of helping others resonated with him. He put his faith in Justin Perreault, who ran the organization that has since closed under a cloud of claims over unpaid bills and misappropriation of funds.
After the fire and as the Boronskis were waiting for an insurance settlement, Eric said Perreault told him he was a contractor and he could oversee the work needed to be done to the house. Perreault was paid $40,000 in insurance funds plus another $13,000 the Boronskis came up with on their own. Perreault subcontracted some work but little was done, and while the subcontractor returned much of what he had been paid, it wasn’t nearly enough to do the job.
Compounding the financial woes, the insurance company ceased paying to have the Boronskis housed. What little money Eric was making and the family was getting in Social Security went into rent and paying the mortgage so they wouldn’t lose the Oakland Beach house.
The Boronskis have an attorney and are pursuing efforts to recover what they paid Perreault.
“He’s incredible,” Eric said of Chris, “he’s a family man, he’s a fantastic craftsman and he cares about people.”
“I don’t think there could be a better person to rebuild this house,” he said.
Chris is all about getting the job and finishing what he’s started. He has put out the word he could use some help and he’s hopeful more people will come forward.
“I’m a man of my word and I’m not going to not do it,” he said.