Wednesday, January 26, 2022
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OPA flaw displaces students, costs school millions

Although the mold has vacated Lindsey Gard’s school-year home at Oak Place Apartments (OPA), Gard will soon have to do the same.

On Nov. 16, students living in UMKC-owned apartments at 5050 Oak St., learned they will have to move out of the 178-unit apartment complex while extensive repairs from cracked PVC pipes are completed.

Initial repairs wrapped up last month. Construction workers fixed leaking pipes throughout the building and conducted air-quality tests to ensure safe living conditions. School officials say the second phase of the process will address the water damage to the building.

According to Associate Chancellor of Administration Robert Simmons, the costs of repairs are expected to come out around $10 million. An announcement of the final cost is expected next month, after the university’s insurance carrier finishes evaluating the situation.

“Certainly, in my time at the university, it is the most significant claim I’ve ever been involved with, and it’s even possible, in the entire UM System,” Simmons said.

Simmons said he hopes insurance will cover a large portion of these costs, but the university is still discussing expenses with the insurance companies.

According to Director of Media Relations John Martellaro, the university cannot predict the costs insurance will cover and the amount for which UMKC will be responsible.

Repairs are expected for completion before the 2018 fall semester. (source: Google Maps)

The project will close off sections of the building in two phases. Repairs to the north wing of the building will begin in January 2018, displacing 212 students for the spring semester.

Gard is one of these students. Along with studying for finals, she now has to figure out where she will live next semester.

“We don’t have to move out until the beginning of next year, so I think it will be easier to focus on after finals,” Gard said. “I’m trying not to worry about it really, but it is stressful.”

UMKC gave students like Gard options to move to housing in the south wing of OPA, the UMKC Hospital Hill Campus, UMKC homes or residence halls along with a free meal plan.

On-campus housing, however, is limited. The university also gave these students the option to cancel their housing contract all together with no fees attached.

“We asked students what their preferences were, first and foremost,” said Director of Residential Life Sean Grube.

“We had some students take us up on cancellation, but it really wasn’t very many,” he said. “Probably about 20 total, a smaller number than I anticipated. So, we are finalizing assignments right now, but there will be no student turned away from housing [who] wants housing.”

Many students expressed interest in moving to the south side of Oak Place Apartments, but according to Grube, that area is not big enough to accommodate these soon-to-be displaced students.

Gard said she is still trying to decide what she wants to do.

“Depending on where I get assigned to, I’ll maybe go off campus somewhere or live in the sorority house,” she said.

Although the situation has been “annoying,” Gard said she feels the university is trying to do what’s best to fix the problems and keep students safe.

Settling explored as reason for pipe failures

To address the water damage from the PVC pipes, repairs will include replacing flooring, drywall and finishes in living areas, according to the Nov. 16 announcement and confirmed by Simmons.

Grube explained the university decided to separate the phases with the north and south wings because the repairs are extensive and the noise and dust would disrupt anyone living in close proximity.

“If we decided to renovate an apartment with students living above and below, it would be highly problematic,” Simmons added.

Two forensic engineers—one hired by UMKC and one from the university’s insurance company—are trying to determine the exact cause of the problems. So far, Simmons said, all of the theories go back to the original construction of the building before UMKC took ownership.

Forensic engineers are investigating whether settling of the building’s foundation contributed to pipe failure, Simmons said. There is evidence of settlement in the building, but not evidence of “differential settlement,” which would mean different parts of the building are settling at different rates.

Settlement is expected to occur in all buildings, and is usually taken into account in the construction design, to allow the building to settle without causing any problems, he said.

“PVC piping is temperature sensitive. When it has hot water going through it, it expands. The key point in all of this is that in the design and construction, it is intent that you allow for that movement that you would anticipate,” Simmons said. “What would cause this to occur is the plumbing in the design and construction did not allow for the movement to occur, and that put stresses on the pipes, causing them to break.”

Addressing faulty housing structures: past and present

This is not the first time the university has dealt with structural issues in a residential building. In 2014, repairs were made in Oak Street Hall to fix differential settlement at a cost of $1.2 million, Martellaro said.

Oak Street Hall underwent repairs for differential settlement in 2014. (source: UMKC)

In this case, “UMKC engaged in legal action with multiple entities that resulted negotiated in settlements,” he said.

UMKC is currently working with its insurance carrier to evaluate what, if any, actions need to be taken to fix Oak Place Apartments.

Oak Place Apartments were built in partnership with a private developer, who worked with UMKC in selecting JE Dunn as the contractor. The university took over full ownership and management of the building in 2012, and the private developer is no longer involved.

JE Dunn did not respond to U-News’ request for comment. According to Simmons, however, JE Dunn has been notified of the problems and is working with UMKC to address the situation.

In addition to a business relationship, JE Dunn also has a personal connection to UMKC. Terry Dunn, who serves as an officer and past chair on the UMKC Foundation Board, was the JE Dunn president and CEO until he retired from the position in 2013.

“All the local parties that are involved at this point are working with us at looking at being a part of the solution,” Simmons said. “JE Dunn is working with us as partners, in terms of prior projects and in terms of university relationships, we have had a very strong partnership with JE Dunn and their principles.”

With Oak Place Apartments constructed in 2008 and Oak Street Hall in 2004, Simmons feels buildings are still too new to be seeing such significant problems.

Although the university has no plans to build additional student housing, Simmons thinks these issues will influence how UMKC approaches residential housing in the future.

With the current issues at Oak Place Apartments and past issues with Oak Street Hall, Simmons said the school has taken a look at all other student housing to ensure there are no similar issues.

For now, the focus is fixing and updating Oak Place Apartments, he said. After the in-depth repairs are completed in the north wing of the building, the south wing will close for repairs after the spring semester ends.

Completion of the entire project is expected by the start of the semester next fall.

“As we look at the process, our focus is trying to take care of students and make sure they have the best experience possible,” said Grube. “I certainly have my door open to any student who has concerns and will continue to do so.”


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