MORGANTOWN — All year, West Virginia University officials said the new University Place apartment complex in Sunnyside would be ready in time for fall classes. All year, Sam Richardson’s friends warned him that it wouldn’t. His friends were right.
On July 14, WVU officials sent out an email blast to students saying that the complex wouldn’t be completed in time for the fall semester. Students would have to find other places to stay, with a little more than a month left before classes begin on Aug. 18.
“I was just . . . I was shocked,” said Richardson, a 21-year-old multidisciplinary studies major. “I felt stupid. I felt like the dumb guy that trusted someone who I shouldn’t have.”
University officials said they first began to realize that the complex wouldn’t be ready sometime in late June. Soon after, the university started making calls to other apartment complexes--Beech View Place, WVU-operated Medical Center Apartments and Campus Park at The Ridge*--asking if there was any room for extra students on a temporary basis.
Only one of the complexes university officials made arrangements with, Beech View Place, is within walking distance of campus — a major reason students chose to sign up with University Place in the first place, students say.
“The developers could have been more forthright and proactive in letting the university know about the potential delay to the opening,” said Chris Nyden, WVU’s student body president. “Unfortunately, as a result, we have many students who were planning on living within walking distance to campus who just don’t have that convenience now.”
Corey Farris, WVU’s dean of students, said university officials are “just as disappointed” as the students, and said the university has worked hard to smooth things over as best it can.
“We weren’t going to leave our students high and dry like that,” Farris said, referring to the university’s effort to make temporary arrangements with other complexes. “We’re committed to them and they’re committed to us.”
Farris said if rent at students’ temporary housing exceeds what they would’ve paid at University Place, WVU and the developer would make up the difference. If it’s less expensive, WVU officials would give students a refund.
University Place is a partnership between WVU and private owners, where students sign leases through the university instead of with landlords. After the project — which includes stores and housing — was announced in fall 2012, students who lived in Sunnyside were forced to move in the middle of the school year.
Farris said nearly every one of the approximately 600 students affected by the delay have found temporary housing elsewhere. No new move-in date has been set for students to move into University Place, but students said moving in the middle of the semester is an added, and unnecessary, burden.
However, WVU officials said students can opt out of their leases at University Place or choose to move in later. They do not have to move in as soon as the complex opens.
“How am I going to find time to switch apartments in the middle of the semester?” asked Amanda Hutchison, 20, an exercise psychology major.
Hutchison, who uses a manual wheelchair, was looking forward to moving into a place she knew would be accessible. Not a lot of places in Morgantown are, she said.
Now, she’s planning on moving to Campus Park at The Ridge, but since she doesn’t know where staff will place her and her roommate, she doesn’t know how handicap-accessible her room will be.
“I’ve been to The Ridge before, and I know there are apartments at ground level without steep inclines,” she said, “but I’m not sure where they’re placing us.”
On Monday, developer Ryan Lynch, with WV Campus Housing, said that, once University Place is finished, the complex will be a fine addition to the Sunnyside neighborhood, long known for its dilapidated and aging student housing.
During a tour of the 10-story tower, he showed off the granite countertops, ceiling-to-floor windows and spacious lounges that will cost students between $635 and $725 per month.
“It’s delayed by factors out of our control,” Lynch said, citing an unusually brutal winter. “Units could be lived in, but WVU, especially, thought it was the best thing to wait until it was 100 percent ready.”
It is clear the complex is far from done. Lynch had trouble finding a completed room to show a reporter, and cement was yet to be laid in some areas on the ground floor.
Lynch said work is being done around the clock, with about 350 workers on site each day.
With WVU and WV Campus Housing playing catch-up, Nyden said he wishes the situation had been handled differently.
“The university reacted swiftly and helped accommodate all affected students,” he said. “However, this is something that could have been entirely avoided at such a late stage.”
Reach Jack Suntrup at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5100.
CLARIFICATION: An earlier version of this story should have included the fact that students could choose not to move to the complex, University Place, upon its completion.
Because the University Place complex is university-operated, rent is charged to student accounts. If a student’s temporary housing is more expensive than what the student expects to pay for University Place, then WVU and the developer, WV Campus Housing, will pay the difference. If a housing arrangement is less expensive, students will receive a refund for charges applied to their accounts.