Some students at Kent State University will be living in hotel rooms to start the new school year because of construction delays at a new, off-campus student apartment complex.
The privately developed Province at Kent student housing on South Lincoln Street will not have its occupancy permit for at least one of its nine residential apartment buildings by the time school starts on Monday.
Bridget Susel, acting head of the Kent Community Development Department, said the delays are due in part to the fact the city's building department has had to conduct multiple re-inspections of three of the complex's residential buildings.
One building — the 168-tenant Building 10 — is at least two weeks away from receiving an occupancy permit, Susel said. Final inspections may be finished in time to issue the occupancy permit for Building 6, which houses 68 tenants, by the end of the week. The occupancy permit for Building 8, which houses 84 tenants, may be issued by the end of this coming weekend.
"They’re close on those two buildings, and it’s anticipated the occupancy permits may be available for (Building 6) and (Building 8) by the end of this week, but they have not been issued yet," Susel said Wednesday. "Building 10 is at least 14 days out."
The 596-bed project is being built by Columbus-based Edwards Communities Development Company and is targeted at students at the neighboring university.
Representatives for Edwards Communities did not respond to requests for comment.
Bob Burford, a spokesperson for Kent State, said officials with Edwards Communities informed the university about the delay potentially effecting 168 registered students.
"Both Kent State University and the city of Kent have encouraged the owners of that property to take care of the students appropriately," Burford said. "We certainly want to make sure all of our students are taken care of."
The firm's student housing projects are managed by a subsidiary, Edwards Student Housing Management Company, which has built student complexes near Ohio State University, the University of Kentucky and other large universities. The family-owned development firm has built more than 30,000 residential units in more than 30 U.S. cities since 1959, according to its website.
Susel said she expressed concern to officials at Edwards Communities earlier this summer about the potential delays that would result in new student tenants having nowhere to live at the start of the school year.
"The company has stepped up to the plate and taken the appropriate measures to assure these kids are housed at the start of school," she said. "That and ensuring that the housing is safe and to code are my two primary objectives."
Susel said Edwards Communities, as of Friday, had taken steps to book hotel rooms for the 168 tenants in Building 10 who likely will be displaced at the school year's start until the apartment building receives an occupancy permit.
"They also were in the process of scheduling buses to transport the students multiple times from the hotel to the campus or Province site, and they also were looking at getting ... storage containers to be put in the parking lot so these students could store their personal items," she said.
If Building 6 and Building 8 don't get their occupancy permits before school starts, Edwards Communities plans to provide the same services for those 152 tenants, Susel said.
Burford said Edwards Communities representative told university officials that, in addition to providing hotel rooms, the developer was considering paying for meal plans on campus for the affected students and possibly letting some out of their leases.
The Province's on-site property manager declined to comment Wednesday.
Cause of delay
Inspectors for Kent's building department have had to make dozens of trips to the construction site to inspect and re-inspect different aspects of the project.
A stack of inspection slips for the project in the city's building department several inches thick tracks the numerous site visits.
Susel said the multiple re-inspections were primarily for roof trusses and floor and wall joists in the three buildings.
One part of the problem, Susel said, was that some of the project's sub contractors were moving ahead on finish work without having inspections done on the core structure.
"So we would basically say you have to go back in and remove the drywall or the insulation so we can inspect the trusses or the joist," she said. "Or we would get called for an inspection and they weren’t ready.
"The number of re-inspections has been definitely more than we’ve experienced with any of our other projects," Susel said.
She said city officials called a meeting with the project's architects and Edwards Communities representatives June 26 to talk about the re-inspection issues.
Since then, both sides have worked to move along inspections and permits.
"We are ensuring the buildings are meeting code and will be safe, and ... that those kids will be housed and provided those ancillary services they will need to transition into a new school year," Susel said.
The project's developers have had to tackle setbacks almost since its inception.
Controversy also developed around the way the developer cobbled together about 10 acres of land to build the project on land not zoned for a residential complex of that size.
Edwards Communities initially asked the city to rezone the project site to University District — a much less strict portion of city zoning code with no density cap for residential complexes.
Residents adamantly opposed the University District zoning request, and Edwards Communities came back with a request to change the project site from R-3 zoning to a more dense R-4 zoning. Again, residents spoke out against the higher density, and the developer asked for a delay to review the issue.
The company came back with a request for an overlay district to create a compromise between the R-3 and R-4 zoning, which again was opposed by residents. Then, in April 2011 the Kent Planning Commission approved a modified version of the proposed overlay district.
The controversy didn't stop there.
Earlier this year several undocumented workers at the site were arrested by Brimfield Police and later fired from the project by Edwards Communities. A construction supervisor at the project who was among those arrested was later fined by a Portage County judge on charges related to making methamphetamine.
Kent City Councilwoman Heidi Shaffer, whose Ward 5 includes the apartment complex, said she's not surprised about the delays given that the earlier controversies likely shortened the construction window.
"They’ve got a plan, and I just hope they do right by these students who are going to be displaced for the first few weeks," she said.
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