Crews race to finish, approve new Centre Region apartments before Penn State student move-in

jvanderk@centredaily.comAugust 10, 2013 

— Crews on Friday patched concrete on the pool deck and ran vacuums around the clubhouse surrounded by a rainbow of cottages at The Retreat on Waupelani Drive, one of four large complexes nearing completion in time for mostly student tenants to move in before Penn State classes start Aug. 26.

The others are The Grove State College, on Toftrees Avenue in Patton Township; The Heights at State College, in the Turnberry development between Blue Course Drive and Circleville Road in Ferguson Township; The Legacy, at the corner of Beaver Avenue and Hetzel Street in State College; and The Villas at Happy Valley, between Dreibelbis Street and Trout Road in College Township.

A ceiling fan, still in its box, awaited installation in The Retreat’s 24-hour fitness room. A couch, chairs and beds awaited unwrapping and placement in a four-bedroom cottage, where those pieces would join desks and chairs in one of the furnished units.

Retreat leasing specialist Cathy Bryan said about 70 percent of the 587 residents chose furnished units.

Final work at The Retreat will include paint touch-ups, placing deck chairs at the pool and scheduling final inspections with State College and College Township — the complex straddles the municipal line — and the Centre Region Code Agency.

Signatures on those final inspections are required before students arrive with their belongings, as are rental housing permits. Inspectors will ensure the units meet minimum building requirements and safety standards, including for light, ventilation, heating, sanitation and fire safety.

“We’re getting close,” code agency Director Walt Schneider said of those final inspections, noting some of the projects will be completed in phases. “... We want to get it done.”

‘Going according to schedule’

Some of the developments appear closer to completion than others. Green grass surrounds the cottages at The Retreat, and picnic tables await outdoor lunches. A basketball court stands at The Grove, but the apartment buildings are in various stages of completion. Modular townhome portions still are arriving at the site of The Villas.

Despite outward appearances, developers assured the community that all four will be ready in time for their tenants to move in. It may still be a race to the finish because, according to the Centre Region Code Agency, only The Legacy and The Retreat had secured final housing permits as of Friday, though The Retreat still needs one for the clubhouse.

Both complexes also have their rental housing permits, readying them for their opening days.

Bryan said The Retreat begins move-in Aug. 19. The rest are set for later that week.

HFL Corp.’s Alex Sahakian said The Legacy will begin Aug. 23, a day ahead of some of the surrounding Beaver Avenue complexes, to ease downtown congestion.

The Legacy, built for 225 students, doesn’t boast the big amenity packages of the other new developments, but its slogan is that the complex is “just around the corner from everything,” according to the website, offering a location convenient to campus and downtown shopping.

Sahakian, HFL’s executive vice president, said he didn’t want to comment on whether the complex is fully leased, but that “everything is going according to schedule.”

“I think it went very well, in light of the size of the project and the location,” he said. “The borough was very cooperative in assisting the builder with closing Hetzel for a time.”

‘Cutting it close’

The borough engineering and zoning departments will sign off on The Legacy and The Retreat, along with the codes office, so developers can obtain certificates of occupancy.

Zoning officer Anne Messner said The Legacy has a few exterior items to address, which have nothing to do with the units, giving them conditional occupancy from the borough. Zoning has given The Retreat final occupancy approval.

Wes Rogers, president and CEO of Retreat developer Landmark Properties, based in Athens, Ga., said the complex should have its occupancy certificates this week. He said crews are “pretty much done” with construction and the cottages are fully leased.

“The project turned out great,” he said. “State College is leaving a good taste in our mouths. We enjoyed building up there.”

Though Rogers said his team is “cutting it close” for The Retreat’s opening, he never was concerned about a delayed start, even when more rock removal than anticipated sent the project over budget by “seven digits” and the approval process took longer than expected.

“We constantly monitor our construction schedule,” he said. “We’re going to get it done, it’s just a matter of how much money we want to throw at it.”

‘Township requirements’

The first structures opening in the new Turnberry development, The Heights, will house 639 tenants in 213 apartments.

Keith Cooper, a development partner, said the complex is fully leased for this fall and that his team should be seeking final housing inspections this week.

“We’re confident that we’ll have all the units ready for move-in,” he said, noting that construction challenges have been “nothing outside your ordinary construction hiccups that you run into in normal course.”

Ferguson Township is responsible for inspecting public improvements, as are all the municipalities. That would include streets, sewer, water, curbing, street lights and street trees. Closer to the project’s conclusion, zoning officials inspect site improvements such as landscaping and parking.

As of Friday, township Manager Mark Kunkle said the zoning department had not yet signed off on those items. He said the lighting inspection was completed and approved Thursday, but that the developer has not yet obtained some stormwater approvals.

The township also awaits a surety posting, a financial promise from the developer that any site improvements remaining — not related to safety — will be completed after achieving occupancy. For The Heights, those include landscaping, sidewalks, yards, and final paving and painting of the parking lot.

Kunkle said work was going well except for an issue with the amount of pavement coverage on caps placed on some sewer inlets. He said the developer was taking corrective action.

“Everything else, as far as I know, from the reports I’ve been given, they’ve met the township requirements,” Kunkle said, adding the developer’s schedule calls for completing required move-in items by Aug. 19.

‘A lot of promises’

The Grove plans 392 apartments, housing 1,050 students. The complex is expected to come online in two phases. The units will be furnished and the development’s website calls it “fully loaded college living.”

Jeremy Kairns, project manager from developer Campus Crest Communities, did not return a message seeking comment on the development and its progress.

Patton Township Manager Doug Erickson said move-in is set to begin Aug. 24.

“Every time we asked them in the last few weeks, they say they’re going to be done,” he said.

Schneider said his office handled some challenges related to The Grove’s building permits. While the codes office issued the first permits in March, for three buildings, Schneider said the rest were not applied for and issued until May, creating some timing issues.

While Schneider said challenges existed between his office and all of the complexes, he pointed to the last-minute nature of those permits.

“A lot of people made a lot of promises and they’re racing for an Aug. 20 deadline,” he said. “The office has been working with them.”

Kairns acknowledged that when he appeared before Patton Township supervisors at their July 17 meeting. He mentioned early challenges “due to some misinterpretations,” but said the codes office had since been cooperative.

“We just want to make sure this project ends on a good note,” he said.

Erickson agreed. He said once work crews move inside the buildings, the township will allow them to work 24 hours a day. The township enforces 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. construction hours. He also said the township will work overtime to finish Grove inspections, if necessary.

“It doesn’t do anybody any good if they don’t open on time,” he said.

‘Finish things up’

The Villas also will have a phased opening, and the 438 bedrooms are not yet fully leased. Al Pringle, developer and manager Keystone Commercial Real Estate, didn’t want to give figures for competitive reasons, but said “we are close.”

Pringle, vice president of commercial real estate, said the first phase mostly has received approval, the second phase should this week and the third by the first week of September. He said the codes office “has been great to work with” and that the project is on schedule.

“Our process out there is a modular process,” he said of the townhome units. “We built them in a factory in Scranton. That took a lot of the uncertainty out of inspection.”

Kent Baker, College Township’s engineer, said staff has signed off on 20 units, and he anticipates conducting more inspections this week.

“They’re still planning to finish things up by the end of the month, although it’s an aggressive schedule,” he said. “It’s been a tough year to work and they weren’t as far ahead in the construction schedule as The Retreat got last year.”

Baker said both developments posted surety for completion of non-safety items, and he anticipates the township will release the bond for The Retreat within the next month.

“In the case of the State College Retreat, they’re basically done,” he said. “We really don’t have any real issues except making sure they maintain some trees and a couple little cleanup items.”

Jessica VanderKolk can be reached at 235-3910. Follow her on Twitter @jVanReporter.

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