Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Is Private Enterprise More Efficient Than The Public Sector When It Comes to Student Housing?

Site of the balcony collapse at the
University of North Texas

Campus Crest Communities has a business plan that sounds so splendid you want to slap your forehead and say, "Why didn't I think of that?"

Founders of the Charlotte-based company realized several years ago that America's colleges and universities faced a shortage of dormitory space. Many on-campus dorms had grown outdated, and such facilities are increasingly expensive to build. Plus, today's prospective college students, raised on the Internet, cable TV, and electronic devices, are turned off by the cramped and spartan dorm rooms of yesteryear. They want amenities, and they want them now.

Ted Rollins, founder and CEO of Campus Crest, had an idea: His company would replace the blah, publicly built dorms of yesterday with the privately built, "fully loaded" student housing of tomorrow. Wall Street loved the idea so much that Campus Crest completed a $380-million IPO in late 2010, and it now has almost 30 properties around the country, including one that is planned for Auburn University here in Alabama.

How could this idea not be a smash hit? After all, private enterprise always is more efficient than government. That's what conservatives have been telling us for years, right?

Well, conservatives might want to check out the latest news about Campus Crest Communities before taking that idea to the bank.

One of Campus Crest's newest properties under The Grove brand opened August 20 at the University of North Texas. Three young men were injured on September 3 when a third-floor balcony collapsed at The Grove in Denton, Texas, and they fell to the parking lot below. One of the men was listed in serious condition, and all had injuries that are believed to be non-life threatening.

How could such an incident take place at a building that is barely two weeks old? The North Texas Daily, UNT's student newspaper, provides insight:

Garrett Draper, Grant Draper and Tony Garcia were attending a party when the third-floor balcony they were standing on detached from the building and fell to the parking lot below.

A CareFlite helicopter transported the victims to Harris Methodist Hospital in Fort Worth, where Garcia and Grant Draper are in fair condition.

As of Monday afternoon, Garrett Draper is still in serious condition, said Megan Brooks, senior public relations specialist for Texas Health Resources.

How did Campus Crest Communities respond? The North Texas Daily reports:

The North Carolina-based company, Campus Crest, released a statement as The Grove’s development company.

“The safety and well-being of our residents and guests that visit our properties is our top priority and concern. We are working in full cooperation with the local authorities as they investigate the incident, and will comment once more information becomes available,” said Campus Crest representative Jason Chudoba in an emailed statement.

In a follow-up statement, the company added that the balcony was a “non weight-bearing structure” that was “not designed to support the weight of three full grown adults.”

In an editorial, The North Texas Daily makes an obvious point:

If the structure wasn’t meant to support the weight of grown adults, it is careless and irresponsible to have a fully functioning door that opens out to the area. It’s either a door that leads to the balcony or a door that leads to the ground.

That's right, the balcony supposedly was decorative, but a door opened out to it. Who approved that design? Is that what you get from private enterprise?

Campus Crest officials apparently are not anxious to answer such questions. We know about that from firsthand experience. CEO Ted Rollins was involved in an alarming divorce case here in Alabama, one that public documents indicate was handled in an unlawful fashion. That resulted in a colossal cheat job for Sherry Carroll Rollins and the couple's two daughters, who now reside in Birmingham. Also, multiple former and current Campus Crest employees have filed federal lawsuits alleging that the company engages in sex and race discrimination. We have made multiple requests to interview Ted Rollins on these issues, and he has refused to be interviewed by "a blogger," one who has more than 30 years of experience as a professional journalist.

Ted Rollins might not be answering questions, but students at the University of North Texas are asking them:

Terrence Williams, a resident of The Grove and kinesiology sophomore, said the problem with the balconies worries him because there may be other safety concerns residents do not yet know about. “If there’s one glitch, there’s probably more,” he said. “What I want to know is, what’s going to happen next?” Williams said. . . .

Tarrolyn Williams, a former leasing assistant at The Grove, said she felt the building’s construction was rushed, possibly contributing to the incident.

“It seemed like they started putting stuff together late July. The inside looks very thrown together,” said Williams, a development and family studies senior at UNT. “I just really, really hope The Grove Apartments get it together, because they’re putting students in danger.”

The big question is this: What happens when a private enterprise takes over the construction and management of student housing that traditionally has been overseen by public entities?

Parents who sign up for their kids to live at The Grove, and other private developments like it, might want to be thinking real hard about that question.

Here is a report from Dallas/Fort Worth television station WFAA about the balcony collapse at the University of North Texas:


Anonymous said...

I've seen first hand the construction of the Grove communities. It 's awful. Very shoddy workmanship and very cheaply made. Run away from these apartments!

Anonymous said...

I have been a part of this jobs all over the country . Not only is the owner ship of this company very strange but the people involded in building them is strange as well. I was part of a company that did some of the electrical work , I left because of shady business going on.Someone know this and sent your link to me . For some strange reason they called me to bid on one of their jobs this year and what happened when i did is a whole another story in its self. But this company really takes the cake.