ORONO, Maine — Town officials and representatives of The Grove and its parent company said that progress was made during a closed-door meeting held Thursday to discuss ongoing problems at the recently opened apartment complex designed for college students.
Since it opened in September, the complex has been plagued with plumbing problems and appliances that weren’t working, according to residents who were interviewed by the Bangor Daily News over the past week and reports from The Maine Campus, the student newspaper at the University of Maine.
Owned by North Carolina-based Campus Crest Communities Inc., the Orono complex also has been the site of raucous parties, including one that drew more than 300 in September, according to Orono police. That has calmed down since stepped-up security measures were put in place.
During a weeklong cold snap earlier this month, tenants contended with frozen water pipes and sprinkler systems as well as numerous power outages because, according to Bangor Hydro-Electric Co., the kind of heat pumps used in the complex aren’t equipped to operate in sub-zero temperatures.
Also this month, town officials began receiving new complaints about mold — a problem that first surfaced within weeks of The Grove’s Sept. 1 move-in day. At least one tenant and two parents of tenants believe mold may be behind recent health symptoms, including respiratory problems and headaches.
The more than one-hour meeting was not open to the public or the media. Representatives from the town and the company declined to talk about what, if any, agreements were reached, but spoke in general terms.
“I just want to tell you it went well,” Mark MacNeil, vice president of construction field operations and a co-founder of Campus Crest, said after the session, which took place in a conference room at the town office.
Timothy Pease, an attorney with the Bangor law firm Rudman & Winchell who attended the meeting with Campus Crest and Grove officials, called the session “very, very productive.”
Two other members of the group did not identify themselves before leaving the town office.
MacNeil referred further questions about what transpired to a corporate spokesman. The spokesman, however, did not respond to emails and telephone messages seeking additional information.
Representing Orono were Town Manager Sophie Wilson, Police Chief Gary Duquette, Fire Chief Robert St. Louis and Old Town Code Enforcement Officer David Russell, who is filling in for Orono Code Enforcement Officer William Murphy, who is on vacation.
“We had a very good discussion,” said Wilson, who characterized the conversation as “very candid and frank.
“It was a very productive meeting. We discussed concerns. We really focused on communication and we have every reason to believe that with corporate here, they are committed to addressing any issues on site.
“We talked about more effective communication between the town and Campus Crest. We talked about the efforts underway — which are pretty substantial on Campus Crest’s part — to address concerns that the town had previously raised” after receiving complaints from tenants, she said.
“We also discussed the role of the town’s code enforcement officer and the responsibilities that we have [to ensure public safety and health]. They now understand how to effectively link with our services and we now have contacts at corporate to talk about our concerns.
“At this time, they are addressing our concerns, which is exactly what we would want a landlord to do,” she said. “There was a concern with communication before but again they have adequately addressed that.”
Though she declined to provide specifics, Wilson said she is writing up an action plan for remediating problems at The Grove.
“We’ll provide that to our attorney and see what happens,” she said, later adding, “Both Campus Crest and the town are committed to having a safe complex for residents to live at.”
Located off Park Street about a half-mile from the Rangeley Road entrance to the UMaine campus, the roughly $25.3 million complex is made up of a dozen buildings with 12 apartments in each, as well as another eight four-bedroom units called “townhomes.” The entire facility has a 620-tenant capacity. Residents pay an average monthly rent of $520 per person.