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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Balcony Collapse Raises Questions About the Private Construction of Student Housing

Decorative balconies
at The Grove

Three young men injured in a recent balcony collapse at the University of North Texas seem to be recovering nicely. But officials in Denton, Texas, are asking questions about the private developer that built the student-housing complex.

Two of the injured men, Garrett Draper and Tony Garcia, have been treated and released from Harris Methodist Hospital in Fort Worth. A third, Grant Draper, is in good condition. They fell from a third-story balcony when it collapsed at The Grove, a student-apartment complex that had opened two weeks earlier.

Campus Crest Communities, of Charlotte, North Carolina, has developed student housing under its Grove brand at about 30 campuses around the country. A project is planned for Auburn University here in Alabama, and CEO Ted Rollins has ties to our state through his involvement in a troubling divorce case that has been the subject of several Legal Schnauzer posts.

We have been asking questions about Ted Rollins and his business/legal practices for quite a while. Now, folks at the University of North Texas are raising similar questions.

The North Texas Daily, in an editorial, says The Grove in Denton was built in a tight time frame:

The Grove apartments were constructed over the summer and went up in about two months--an alarmingly fast turnaround. That should have been a red flag to the building inspector to spend enough time thoroughly checking the building.

The paper also raised questions about the whole notion of private companies building student housing at public universities:

In its 10-K form filed with the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission, Campus Crest touted its vertically integrated platform to investors. According to the document, Campus Crest has ownership of the companies that perform every part of The Grove development process.

As Ted W. Rollins, CEO of Campus Crest, pointed out in an interview with Multi-Housing News (MHN) the company stands to benefit 100 percent from the value creation of The Grove entities.

In other words, they have a direct financial incentive to build quickly and cheaply.

A Houston personal-injury law firm, Denena & Points, already has taken note of the North Texas case. A post on the firm's blog points to negligence in the balcony collapse:

Pictures of The Grove apartments in Denton, TX show a (very) few holes where the balcony was anchored into the wall in some way. It appears that the balcony had no supportive ledger board. Or if there was one, it does not appear that it was attached in any way to the apartment wall. It is clear from the number and positioning of the holes that the balcony could not have supported much weight.

News reports of the Denton balcony collapse quote a spokesperson who emphasizes that the balconies and their railings were purely "decorative" structures attached to the building merely for aesthetic reasons. The spokesperson specifically states that the balconies were not designed to bear weight. It sounds like The Grove apartments in Denton, TX and their owner, Campus Crest, try to use this as a "defense" against the balcony collapse. But as a defense, it just doesn't seem to hold up (much like the balcony).

Could Campus Crest be facing legal fallout from the balcony collapse?

It's just plain negligent to deliberately attach non-weight bearing balconies to an apartment (especially on the 3rd floor, directly above a hard concrete surface) and then create fully functional doors that residents can use to go out upon that balcony. The Grove apartments' spokesperson says the balcony was never intended to bear the weight of the adults who were on it that night it collapsed. Yet the complex had constructed doors that open right out onto those balconies and that seem to invite you to step out upon these non-weight bearing balconies. Did the complex tell the students that it was dangerous to use their balconies and that these balconies weren't designed to bear weight--that they must only look, and not touch them? (Probably not.)

We have been scrutinizing Ted Rollins and his legal/business practices for some time. Looks like others are going to join that effort.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

It is obvious that the balcony is decorative only and really should be considered a railing. If you look at the shadow on the wall in the photos on your post, you will notice there may be 6” of space between the door and rail. Not even enough space for the average foot to fit. The doors do make a great emergency egress point.
I am sure that at 3am at a college party people were not thinking very well. It is horrible that people were injured, but you can’t protect everyone from everything. We should always be sympathetic to any accident victim.
In regards to fast paced construction, how dare a company create jobs, assist in boosting our economy, and turn a profit! Monsters! If someone has a big enough problem with The Grove I don’t believe they are forced to be there.

legalschnauzer said...

Anon:

Perhaps you've hit on the perfect marketing campaign for The Grove:

"If you don't like our unsafe properties, go somewhere else!"

You should send that to company HQ in Charlotte, NC. If they go for it, I want a royalty.

By the way, how do the doors make a great emergency egress point? If you are looking to jump three stories to your death?

Sounds like a plan.

Anonymous said...

Don't be over reactive now chicken little. One incident doesn't make a property "unsafe".
As far as a slogan goes, that one is basically implied in every thing any of us do any day. That is the beauty of America. Choices! Something that you and your left wing buddies would love to do away with. Why don't you let the government run everything and dictate to us what is right and what isn't.

Emergency egress points are for just that, emergencies. They are openings that are large enough to allow for a safe escape in the event of a fire. Building codes require them and when they are a certain distance off the ground they are required to have safety rails. This still allows a fire department to rescue the occupants.

Research Roger, then report.

legalschnauzer said...

Anon:

I didn't know it was a "left wing" idea to think that buildings should be designed and constructed properly. Glad you filled me in.

You should talk to a number of engineer friends of mine. They have been trained in professional design, and they believe structures should not fall apart or collapse. And they are conservatives. They also believe in accountability. Imagine that!

As far as egress, you seem to be saying that the balconies are there to hold occupants until the fire department can reach them--unless, of course, the balcony collapses first.

Gotcha.

I guess Grove residents have a "choice," your favorite word. In the event of an emergency, which apparently happen at Grove locations quite a bit (as with the fire in Mobile), they can choose to burn to death or fall to their death while waiting on a decorative balcony for the fire department.

Always nice to have "choices."