July 15, 2013 in Region

Loss of 88 apartments leaves WSU students scrambling

By The Spokesman-Review
 

PULLMAN – Around 200 Washington State University students are looking for new housing for fall term after a massive fire destroyed four apartment buildings that had planned to open soon.

The Sunday morning blaze, labeled suspicious by fire officials, incinerated 88 units at the Grove apartment complex on the north end of town. The completed buildings would have had a value close to $13 million, according to city building permits.

A Spokane Valley Fire Department dog trained in detecting signs of arson will arrive on the scene Tuesday to help investigators find the cause, said Pullman fire prevention officer Rich Dragoo, the lead investigator.

The dog also was used in a string of arson fires on the WSU campus in May 2012, although officials said they do not believe Sunday’s fire is connected to those fires.

The fire hit five weeks before fall classes begin, and students who signed leases for the units that burned are hunting for other accommodations.

“I don’t think we’re going to have people pitching tents, but there is going to be pressure on housing,” said Eileen Macoll, president of the Whitman County Landlord-Tenant Association.

“This is going to put probably 200 young people in a scramble for housing. I think the shock is still probably just setting in, and as so many young people travel during the summer, they may not even be aware of their situation as yet,” Macoll said. “I certainly feel for them.”

Campus Crest Communities Inc., the Charlotte, N.C.-based owner of the Grove, said through a spokesman today, “We are confident we will be able to provide alternative housing accommodations for all affected residents.”

WSU offered to work with Campus Crest to help students find alternative housing, said Terry Boston, assistant vice president for student affairs and enrollment. That could include some space in the university’s resident halls, he said.

After speaking today with a company representative, Boston said he was sure “we’re not going to be in a situation where a student is going to be without housing.”

Firefighters stopped the fire from spreading to four other Grove apartment buildings under construction. Campus Crest, which develops and operates student housing in 27 states, was not able to say today if those apartments can be finished in time for fall classes.

“While there is a chance portions of the property will be ready to house residents for the start of the academic year, we have plans in place to provide alternative housing accommodations for all residents,” said Jason Chudoba of ICR Inc., a New York City-based corporate relations firm hired by Campus Crest.

The project is planned as a 374-unit development, and based on the number of bedrooms proposed, the developer estimated more than 1,000 tenants in all, according to Pullman city records.

Campus Crest was building 216 units in 10 buildings in the first phase and planned another 158 units in the second. For the first phase, just off Terre View Drive, the city has issued building permits with an estimated value of more than $30 million.

Company representatives were in Pullman today to assess the damage and speak with fire investigators.

“Once our assessment and the ongoing investigation by the local authorities are complete we will be in a better position to share details regarding a timeline for the property’s opening,” Chudoba said.

He said the top priority for Campus Crest is to ensure its residents are well taken care of. “We plan to communicate our housing plans with residents in the next few days,” he added.

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