Displaced students living the hotel life

The phrase “back to school” held a different meaning for some students this year as future University Village residents were informed that their on-campus apartments would not be ready to move into by the previously scheduled date.

Due to a labor shortage, the University Village, along with other sites around the Coral Gables campus, has experienced delays in its opening date.

The 800 future residents of University Village were notified via e-mail that their apartments would not be ready on time due to construction delays.

According to Sarah Artecona, assistant vice president of media and community relations, the university waited until they knew for sure what the situation would be before notifying the students of the postponement of move-in day.

Once the university knew for certain, they made arrangements to provide the displaced students with temporary housing in several area hotels. These include the Dadeland Marriot, Biltmore Hotel, Holiday Inn, Doubletree Hotel, David William Hotel and the Wyndham Grand Bay.

These accommodations have similarly been extended to the Resident Assistants and high-level staff members whose housing at the Village has also been delayed.

Because not all the buildings will be completed at the same time, the university is planning to gradually move students into University Village.

At the moment, the projected move-in date for students occupying buildings three, four and seven is set for Sept. 9. Future residents of buildings five and six are set to move in on Sept. 30 and the last group of students from buildings one and two are projected to move in on Oct. 27.

Dr. Patricia A. Whitely, vice president for student affairs, notified those students who are scheduled to move in on or after Sept. 30 that their rent for the month of September will be waived.

To help ease the inconvenience for all displaced students, the university also offered free weekly meal plans, shuttle services to and from the hotels, laundry service and free storage for students’ belongings through CollegeBoxes.

However, if students use the CollegeBoxes service they will be unable to access their belongings until they move in.

Artecona said that the delays in construction at University Village were primarily caused by an overall shortage in construction crews in the South Florida area. Miami-Dade County is currently undergoing a construction boom that has increased the demand for skilled laborers such as plumbers, construction workers and electricians, among others. The county is currently ranked fifth in the nation for the construction of new residential units, according to estimates made by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Jim McQueen, a spokesman for Courtelis Construction, the company in charge of University Village, said that the present situation has made construction crews increasingly difficult to retain.

“The problem is that [skilled laborers] are needed all over the city and there aren’t enough to go around,” McQueen said. “Companies get desperate and offer [workers] more money to work on their projects and in the end [the workers] will go to whoever is able to offer the highest pay.”

In response to the worker shortage, the university has some crews working seven days a week and has also brought in construction crews from throughout the Southern United States, primarily Georgia, to help speed up the progress of University Village.

However, Artecona said that the university also wanted to be sensitive to the fact that it could potentially be taking crews that are still working on repairing damage caused by last year’s hurricane season.

While the University Village residents await the completion of their new apartments, many have had to turn their hotel rooms into a home away from home. In turn, some of the hotels have taken measures to provide a living and working environment suitable for students.

The Wyndham Grand Bay, which currently houses 240 UM students, has converted its penthouse conference suite into a study lounge where students can work on their assignments outside of their hotel rooms.

While the hotels were willing to take in the students, many were not entirely equipped to do so.

Students staying at the Holiday Inn were told that the hotel’s parking lot would not be able to accommodate all the student residents, so many have had to leave their cars at the university’s Ponce de Leon garage across the street.

In response to the parking dilemma the university has extended the shuttle services to the Holiday Inn until 2 a.m.

Some University Village residents, while grateful for the way the university has worked to remedy their situation, feel as though the school should have been able to anticipate the construction delays sooner.

“I think [the university] shouldn’t have brought students into a rental agreement if [the university] wasn’t sure the project would be completed on time,” said Marcus Sholar, a senior and temporary Dadeland Marriot resident. “I appreciate the services, but there’s nothing like having your own place.”

Besides University Village, other construction projects on campus, specifically the Christine M. Schwartz School of Nursing and the new addition to the School of Communication, have also experienced construction delays.

The School of Nursing is near completion and, according to Artecona, is likely to be finished on time in September. No definite timeframe has officially been set for the completion of either the nursing or communication buildings, however.

The new School of Communication building, which was first scheduled to open last December, is further from completion. Classes originally scheduled to take place in the new building had to be relocated back to the old building as well as to other locations on campus, such as the Ring Theatre.

Marina Nazir may be contacted at m.nazir@umiami.edu.