About the North Avenue Apartment Construction...
While most students are fortunate enough not to be caught-up in the perpetual residential construction on campus, many students and their parents are dealing with the inconveniences of repairing the North Avenue Apartments. The North Avenue Apartments have been undergoing major repairs and maintenance since Georgia Tech took control of the facilities in the summer of 2007. Like most repair projects, this brick replacement process has come with a few surprises and many frustrations. I had the opportunity to speak with Mike Black, Senior Director of Housing at Georgia Tech, to clarify some aspects of the project.
How did we get here - why where these significant repairs needed to the North Avenue Apartments?
The original apartments were built for the 1996 Summer Olympics as dormitories for the Olympics athletes. Four separate contractors, one of which is now bankrupt, worked on the buildings and, as you can imagine, all did things differently. It appears that due to completion deadlines, shortcuts were taken to complete the structure. Now, these shortcomings are catching up with us. The very real likelihood of falling bricks onto nearby foot and motor traffic without drastic repair is not taken lightly. Nor is the $6.5 million price tag required to repair the brick correctly. We realize that this is a huge inconvenience to students, but it cannot be helped.
After Georgia Tech purchased the complex in June 2007, we subsequently conducted an extensive "Facility Condition Assessment Report" on the structure and concluded that an additional $24 million would need to be spent on the complex. The brick replacement was not on our radar screen until late July 2008 when it was decided that the liability of not repairing the bricks on the East and North buildings was significant. We did not nor could not anticipate the issues that we found once we started removing the brick.
What was discovered as the bricks were being removed?
We performed a forensic assessment of all the buildings by way of exploratory "surgery" to see what was hiding behind the brick and found little to no brick ties, which secure the brick to the building. Once the bricks were removed we found improperly installed angle irons, which support the weight of the stacked bricks, and a lack of waterproofing in some areas. These are big deals and can cause major problems. Remember, four different contractors worked on the buildings so we are seeing different things in different buildings.
Where does the project stand today, what happens next?
The brick removal was completed at the end of September, and we are now actually replacing brick. The angle irons have been removed and the waterproofing will be completed soon. The windows are covered with translucent visqueen which will allow some natural sunlight through the window while providing privacy for the residents. In addition, we are also in the process of repairing the HVAC system and cleaning the air vents to provide cleaner, healthier air to all the North Avenue Apartment residents.
When do you foresee the brick project being completed?
Our intent is to complete the brick replacement project by the end of December. We have made great progress in the repair project even in the midst of needing to address additional safety issues and code violations. At this point, the contractor is still planning to conclude this brick repair project by December 2008. The Department of Housing will continue to send updates to students. We are working diligently on completing this process in a timely manner without sacrificing quality and ultimately the safety of our students.
There have been complaints about the noise and construction on weekends and after the 8:00 p.m. curfew. What is causing this frustration?
The noise associated with the removal of brick and defunct angle irons was troublesome to some students - especially those living in the east side of the North and East buildings. Georgia Tech maintains a high standard of sustainability and our mission is to reuse as much brick as possible; hence, jackhammers were deployed to remove the brick. Jackhammers are very loud. The noise level moving forward should be much less bothersome.
From the beginning, we established work hours from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. There is the provision that if a work week day was lost due to weather, we would allow work on Saturday to help keep the project on track. We also send email notifications to students warning them about the work to be performed on a Saturday if necessary. There was one incidence where we discovered after the fact that the contractor was working past the 8:00 p.m. curfew to complete work before a rain storm. I can assure everyone, that this will not happen again. Our contractor was reprimanded and reminded of the work schedule. There is absolutely no work to be performed under any exception on Sundays or during Dead Week (Dec 1-5) and Finals Week (Dec 8-12).
You talk about communications, how are you notifying students of the progress and upcoming repair schedules?
Before the actual repairs began, we informed residents of the upcoming construction last summer. It is extremely unfortunate that we did not know about the required brick repair project when students selected their rooms back in February-April. In fact, the decision to move forward was made June 2008. The severity of the issues didn't give us any good options and the timing was very short. We are currently employing emails, posters and town hall meetings to inform students of the progress and of any schedule changes. We also developed a North Avenue Apartment Repairs Web site with a schematic of the repair project. Correspondences include emails to students, with detailed progress updates and upcoming work schedule changes if required, and the NAA-Life on the Quad newsletter are also posted on this site. We have discovered that many students are blocking our emails from their Georgia Tech account, which really makes it difficult to communicate these updates.
Any advice for students who are trying to buckle down and find a quite space to study?
In addition to the library and student center which are open 24/7, there are 23 study rooms in the North Avenue Apartment complex. We have also opened the Ramblin' Wreck Room for a limited time from noon to 6:00 p.m.. Students should stop by the North Avenue Office to sign in, a Housing staff member will then give them access to the room. I would also encourage students to remove the block on their email account so that they can receive and digest the project updates. Lastly, please have patience with this project - it is not perfect but we are doing our best! It is extremely important for the welfare of the students that we make these repairs. While we anticipate that the worst of the inconvenience is over, we would appreciate some flexibility as we move towards the final stages. Students will reap the benefits!