ORONO, Maine — A North Carolina-based development and building company founded by a University of Maine graduate announced last week it intends to build a luxury apartment complex to house University of Maine students starting in the fall of 2010.
Campus Crest Communities of Charlotte, N.C., wants to put one of its Grove complexes in a site off Marsh Lane, about one-half mile north of the Orchard Trails student housing complex, Town Manager Cathy Conlow said. The building, which would include roughly 200 apartments for 500 students, would be called The Grove at Orono.
Shannon King, chief marketing officer at Campus Crest, said last week that the company is gathering permits and planning to break ground this fall on the multimillion-dollar project.
Conlow said Campus Crest officials met with the town about 1½ years ago, but the company has not submitted a preliminary design. Campus Crest will meet again with town officials in June at the earliest, she added.
Conlow declined to comment further on the project.
Michael Hartnett, a 1981 UM graduate and native of Harrison, helped found Campus Crest five years ago. Campus Crest has built 24 Grove facilities that are either in operation or pre-leasing in North Carolina, Texas, Tennessee, Arkansas, Georgia, Alabama, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Idaho and Washington. The company has another 15 facilities in the pipeline, including Orono, Burlington, Vt., and several in New York. About 12,000 people are living in Campus Crest properties.
The Grove complexes average 220,000 square feet. Each apartment has either two or three bedrooms, each with a private bathroom and walk-in closet.
Other amenities include a washer and dryer in each apartment, high-speed Internet access, an outdoor pool and an 8,000-square-foot clubhouse with game rooms, a coffee shop, fitness center and tanning salon. There also are outdoor basketball courts.
Those extras, King said, are meant to foster a sense of community and help students learn to live on their own.
“I believe many college students get a bad rap for being apathetic, beer-drinking partiers, when in reality [they are] people who are learning to be successful citizens,” she said. “We need to provide them opportunities to learn how to be responsible.”
Rents have not been set for The Grove at Orono, but typically run $15-$19 a day at other sites, King said. That works out to $465-$589 a month per tenant.
UMaine Dean of Students Robert Dana said the university charges $4,180 per student in one academic year for a standard double room. That works out to about $464 a month.
Orchard Trails, an apartment complex near UMaine’s Park Street entrance, now rents single rooms in four-bedroom apartments for $495 a month.
“Students are spending $3 for a cup of coffee,” King said. “Without sounding disrespectful to things that are going on [in the economy], just because people are struggling it doesn’t mean they’re not committed to providing or having access to a good quality of life.”
Campus Crest may be expanding to Orono, but the company has had to deal with lawsuits, bad press and sour reviews elsewhere.
According to an October 2007 story in the ACU Optimist, the newspaper of Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas, three local contractors filed liens totaling more than half a million dollars against Campus Crest; one company released its claim two weeks later.
The Daily Record of Ellensburg, Wash., the site of Central Washington University, reported in September 2007 that Campus Crest admitted it had distributed leases with the wrong date, forcing some students to wait a month to move into the apartments.
Opinions were mixed on the Web site apartmentratings.com. For The Grove apartments in Asheville, N.C., 51 percent of users recommended the complex. While one of the commenters liked the Grove’s proximity to campus, fully equipped rooms and amenities, another noted damaged furniture, missing closet doors and incor-rect rent charges.
“Nothing ever gets fixed no matter how many times you complain,” the anonymous commenter wrote this February. “The apartments may appear nice, but the kitchen counters aren’t even level! The apartments seem to be made as cheap [sic] as possible.”
The company is aware of the complaints.
“While it would be great to keep every single [customer] happy, and we strive to, that’s not the case,” King said. “Quite frankly, the demographic we serve, if you make one of them angry they get on this perpetual thing called the Internet. We make them angry one day, and it is in [perpetuity].”
Campus Crest’s mixed record would be a concern to UMaine officials.
“One of the things we’re concerned about with any off-campus large congregant housing is that students are safe and secure in those places and that the environment doesn’t become corrosive to the learning process,” Dean of Students Robert Dana said.