After the recent issues at The Grove in Orono compelled town officials to contact executives from Campus Crest to discuss some of the problems and complaints raised by residents, Orono town manager Sophie Wilson was pleased with how the conversation went on Thursday.
“The big topic was communication,” Wilson said. “Based upon that meeting and what we’ve heard has been happening at the Grove, we have every reason to believe they are here to address the concerns, and corporate is moving forward with a plan.”
According to the Bangor Daily News, the meeting involved Vice President of Construction Field Operations and Co-Founder of Campus Crest Mark MacNeil along with two unidentified Campus Crest officials; and Timothy Pease, an attorney with Bangor law firm Rudman & Winchell. In addition to Wilson, Fire Chief Robert St. Louis, Police Chief Gary Duquette, and Old Town Code Enforcement Officer David Russell — sitting in for Orono’s Code Enforcement Officer William Murphy, who was on vacation — were present.
“They told us they were committed to fixing the problems,” Wilson said of Campus Crest. “From that conversation, it sounded like they were leaving folks from corporate here to make sure all of the concerns were addressed.”
‘Actual demands … exceeded projected demand’
During a recent cold spell in the middle of January, when temperatures were routinely in single digits, a number of power outages at The Grove in Orono led residents to voice complaints as thermostats dropped into the 40s.
When responding to a media inquiry by The Maine Campus, Campus Crest Co-Founder Mike Hartnett blamed the power-outage issues on “faulty fuses” installed by Bangor Hydro, an electric company out of the greater Bangor area.
“[Bangor Hydro] knew all of the specifications and equipment being used, and I think we had some fuses that were not properly installed by them and they went out and replaced the faulty fuses,” Hartnett said over the phone on Jan. 26. “It’s by no means of faulty design — it was the fuses, and [Bangor Hydro] should have known that from the design.”
However, when contacted by The Maine Campus, Bangor Hydro issued a statement that contradicted the Campus Crest co-founder.
“After speaking with engineers involved in the project and the subsequent outages at Campus Crest in Orono, we believe the problem was because actual demand on the electrical system exceeded projected demand,” Susan Faloon, Bangor Hydro’s communications supervisor, wrote in an email.
During The Maine Campus’ discussion with Hartnett and other members of Campus Crest, the issue of the heat pumps that were installed was brought up, and Hartnett agreed that heat pumps lose efficiency as temperatures dwindle. Yet Bangor Hydro said they offer incentives to partners who install efficient heat pumps, but Campus Crest did not do so.
“We believe the use of more efficient heat pumps may have prevented the problem,” Faloon wrote. “We support heat pump technology, however we recommend units that meet certain efficiency guidelines. Bangor Hydro has a heat-pump pilot program that provides financial incentives for heat pumps that actually exceed Energy Star guidelines. The units that are being used in the Campus Crest facility do not meet those guidelines or even Energy Star guidelines.”
The statement concluded with Bangor Hydro stating that the steps they have taken should alleviate the issues and will work with management to come up a more permanent fix.
“We believe we’ve taken steps to address the problems for now [upgrading fuses and transformers] and we’ve also identified some potential solutions to prevent future outages and will work with property management to come up with a long-term solution,” Faloon wrote.
Campus Crest didn’t respond to media inquiries following Bangor Hydro’s response.
According to Wilson, the issues of communication between the town and Campus Crest were a constant talking point, noting this isn’t rare among tenants and landlords. Because of the scale of The Grove in Orono, it became a bigger problem. Normally, Wilson said, the town likes to see those issues resolved on their own.
“We’re here as a fall back, and in this particular circumstance, the message I got loud and clear from Campus Crest is that there were communication issues — we can all agree with that,” Wilson said. “They have taken pretty immediate steps to ensure that doesn’t happen again.”
In light of the problems, Campus Crest sent out an email to its residents, offering a $50 rent voucher for February to combat the recent issues. When asked whether or not Campus Crest had sufficiently reimbursed its residents, Wilson replied, saying the town doesn’t have an opinion on that.
“It’s not that we don’t care about our residents,” Wilson said. “But at the end of the day, that’s really between Campus Crest and the tenants. I would encourage people who are unhappy to bring it up with Campus Crest. They have been very willing to at least listen to concerns.”
Wilson believes the topic of communication is no longer an issue, as she said Campus Crest made it clear that they expect to hear from her directly if any other issues come up.
“What we were lacking before was being able to go up the chain,” she said. “When they left, I received telephone numbers for the high-up folks with direction that they expected me to call if there were any issues.”
More mold alleged in Grove complex
Throughout the school year, Undergraduate Student Legal Aid Attorney Sean O’Mara said anywhere from 10 to 15 students have approached him for advice for problems at The Grove in Orono.
“From student legal services point of view, these were still isolated incidents,” O’Mara said. “There was no way to determine how broad this problem was. I gave advice to document any issues, take pictures.”
O’Mara said the majority of problems he has discussed with students have been about possible mold issues, which, according to the Bangor Daily News, may have returned. Town officials also released documents on Tuesday indicating that there were mold problems in September at The Grove complex in Orono. The tests, which were performed by TP Environmental Consulting in Brewer on Sept. 28, confirmed the finding of mold in four apartment buildings, according to the paper.
In a letter to The Grove dated Oct. 3, St. Louis, who also acts as Orono’s Health Officer, stated that follow-up tests “indicate a strong potential for adverse health [e]ffects in your tenants.”
The mold issues were cleared to the satisfaction of town officials, but, according to the Bangor Daily News, at least three mold complaints have been filed since the string of power outages — the presence of mold has not yet been confirmed this winter.
While O’Mara said no one has pursued legal action against Campus Crest to his knowledge, he laid out the situation as to when he would pursue litigation.
“If it was me, I would immediately send written notice, saying not only does this need to be dealt with now, [but] here is a time frame for when this needs to be fixed, and you need to provide a place for me to stay, because this is not a safe situation,” O’Mara said. “If I was returned to that situation and the problem returned, that would be the point I would consider it a material breach of the lease and I would basically sue them in small claims court or sue them civilly.”
O’Mara has said he has offered to sign a limited representation agreement with students who have voiced their complaints, but none have asked him to do so. What a limited representation agreement would provide is O’Mara would be permitted to send letters and make phone calls on the student’s behalf.
“In this case, I’ve offered to call The Grove and take that role on, and no student [has asked] me to follow through on that,” O’Mara said.