COLUMBIA, 1/28/11 (Beat Byte) -- When Campus Crest student housing CEO Ted Rollins emailed his construction chief, Bryan Sharpe, "to take time off" because he was "acting very stressed out," it was an internal glimpse of a situation that had reached an external boiling point in communities across the nation.
"We can’t scream and call people c--ts and mother f--ers," Rollins emphasized, in emails cited in state and federal court documents accusing the North Carolina-based firm of hostile workplace practices. "We can’t storm out irrationally if someone disagrees with us; we can’t be EMOTIONALLY UNSTABLE."
Sharpe had reason to be stressed. In city after city, the company's most important component -- its student-tenant customers -- were revolting, protesting what they characterized as shoddy workmanship, missed deadlines, broken promises, and inadequate company responses.
As student protests have gone public -- this 172-member Anti-Grove Facebook page is another example -- community residents have also taken up the outcry.
"Student complaints from these complexes are troubling, and the same across the country," writes Fort Collins, Colorado resident Peggy Loonan in a detailed Jan. 27, 2011 editorial for the Coloradoan, which has closely covered Campus Crest's controversial appearance in Colorado State University country. "Appliances don't work; apartments aren't cleaned; move-in dates are pushed back because construction isn't complete; or students are moved into unfinished apartments."
Greeley, Colorado residents put up a Flickr album that shows dying lawns; broken vinyl; trash; and other evidence of less-than-sterling workmanship at their version of The Grove, a Campus Crest branded complex.
Closer to home, a Feb. 7 Columbia City Council meeting may greenlight The Grove at Columbia -- a 632 bedroom student apartment project on Grindstone Parkway and Rock Quarry Road unanimously approved by Columbia's Planning and Zoning commission last week.
"We didn't have any of this information about Campus Crest in other communities," Columbia P&Z Commissioner Ann Peters told the Heart Beat. "It wasn't provided to us by city staff or anyone else. We had no idea all this was going on."
Tenant complaints about Campus Crest and "The Grove" brand of student apartments date back to at least 2007. The Ellensburg Daily Record interviewed Central Washington University students about lease changes and delayed moves.
Campus Crest claims it tried to accomodate, but at least 100 students thought it was too little, too late. "So far it's been horrible," said CWU student Ashley Smith. "Everyone I've talked to says its a problem."
The University of South Alabama Vanguard newspaper wrote that "delayed move ins and disappointments seemed a common theme at several of The Grove housing units built this year."
Steven F. Austin State University (SFA) students moving into a Campus Crest complex in Nacogdoches, Texas "found a host of inadequate living conditions," The Daily Sentinel, that city's newspaper reported in 2008.
The company later resolved most of the problems, however, and "worked effectively to combat a widespread feeling that apartment properties were developed too quickly to deliver a quality result." Campus Crest officials pointed to high lease renewal rates as evidence of the turnaround.
But for many students seeking the high-end living Campus Crest promised, late resolution to early problems wasn't enough. SFA graduate student Shawna Lee told reporters broken windows and holes in the ceiling prompted her not to renew. "Things improved under a new manager," Lee said, "but there was not a whole lot she could do about a poorly-built complex."
"I would not chose to live in The Grove again, nor would I recommend the apartment complex to anyone," SFA student Ashley Landers told The Sentinel. Landers stayed in a hotel until her apartment was ready, only to find it "flooded and the carpet completely ruined" when she finally moved in. "The management just didn't take care of what it needed to do."
SFA student Denesha Williams said when she moved into The Grove in September 2007, "the amenities were either not functional or they were delayed. Some of the apartments would flood after it rained, and they would have to bring in big fans to dry the carpet."
Nonetheless, Grove representatives insisted glitches were behind them.
With a low 21% recommendation rating and critical comments galore at ApartmentRatings.com, Campus Crest's promised performance remains to be seen, says Fort Collins realtor Curt Schreiber, who runs a blog devoted to college student housing. Two million dollars in contractor liens, many settled for 50 cents on the dollar, struck Schreiber as a "pretty big red flag" right off the bat.
"Students who are potential occupants of the apartments might want to check out the generally poor tenant ratings of Campus Crest's similar development in Evans, Colorado," he writes. "Fort Collins can, and indeed should, do better for student housing than what is currently proposed for The Grove. If Campus Crest can improve their proposal to meet community standards and expectations, then great. If not, then they won't have my support."
The Campus Crest Controversy