Crescent examining other apartment complexes after floor problem forces residents out

The entrance to Circle University City Apartments at 9010 University City Blvd. in Charlotte.
The entrance to Circle University City Apartments at 9010 University City Blvd. in Charlotte.

Charlotte-based developer Crescent Communities is examining construction at some of its local apartment complexes after its decision Tuesday to move all residents out of the Circle University City apartments to fix problems with floor construction.

Crescent said the problems at Circle University, a 187-unit student housing complex across from UNC Charlotte’s main entrance, appear to stem from a defect in floor trusses used at the complex, which opened last year. Ben Collins, Crescent’s senior vice president for the mid-Atlantic, called the situation “highly unusual.”

“We’ve discovered what we think is a manufacturer’s defect,” Collins said. He declined to identify the manufacturer of the floor trusses, and the company name is not listed in county inspection records.

Collins said Crescent, one of Charlotte’s most prolific apartment developers in recent years, is trying to determine whether there are problems at other sites with floor trusses similar to those at Circle University. Crescent has hired a forensic structural engineer for its review.

“This is an issue that is high on our radar screens,” Collins said. “We’re undertaking these measures out of an abundance of caution. We’ve been advised no safety issues exist in the buildings today.”

Adolfson & Peterson, the general contractor who constructed the Circle University building, said in a statement that the company is aware of the issue and “has been working with our client and their design team to determine the root cause and next steps,” but it declined to comment further.

Charlotte is in the midst of the city’s biggest ever apartment-building boom, with more than 10,400 units under construction and another 10,000 planned to follow. The surge of new apartments, many of them four- or five-story buildings with wood-frame construction, similar to Circle University, is evident throughout Charlotte but is concentrated uptown and in surrounding neighborhoods.

Crescent is building apartment complexes in Dilworth and SouthPark, and is planning to build hundreds more apartments, a Whole Foods, up to three hotels and a 27-story office tower uptown. The company is also planning an apartment and retail development in NoDa. In recent years, Crescent has completed the Circle University complex and the Alexander Village at University Research Park in Charlotte.

Engineer will draw up plan

Jim Bartl, Mecklenburg County’s code enforcement director, said the North Carolina-licensed engineer hired by Crescent is assessing the problem at Circle University and will likely draw up a plan for making repairs. Crescent will need a county building permit to do the work.

The county would then inspect the work or rely on the engineer to make the check, Bartl said.

“My personal bias is I am most comfortable if the person who actually designed the solution checks the work to make sure it’s exactly the way he wanted it,” Bartl said. “We’ll discuss in-house the best way before we actually cut the permit and come to an agreement with them.”

The county successfully used a similar strategy when a roof at SouthPark Mall collapsed in 2012, he said.

Manufactured floor trusses are built in off-site facilities and are examined by third-party inspectors there, Bartl said. County inspectors then make sure the trusses are installed according to the engineer’s design.

“We are leaning very heavily on a process set up by the state of North Carolina, with the inspectors being in the factory,” he said. Trusses made off-site have been popular for more than a decade, he said. “It’s not unusual.”

Kerry Hall, a spokeswoman for the N.C. Department of Insurance, which oversees the state building code, said the agency has not been involved with the situation at the Crescent apartment building.

Speaking generally, Hall said the architect or builder of the project would have had to submit plans to the county that included truss drawings certified by a North Carolina-licensed engineer that showed the trusses would meet load criteria under the building code.

County inspectors would then have been responsible for checking the construction. She did not immediately respond to questions about how trusses would be inspected at the factory.

Problems started at a party

The floor issues at Circle University first came to light in January, when two students told the Niner Times student newspaper that part of their ceiling caved in during a party in the room above. No one was hurt, and a Crescent spokeswoman said damage was cosmetic. County inspection records show that Crescent requested an inspection in February after structural damage to the floor system was found in units 302 and 402.

“Floor system in the kitchen/main room area damaged apparently as a result of 80+ people jumping up-and-down on the floor,” the records say. “Floor area appears to be depressed approximately an inch to an inch and a half.”

The county posted “unsafe building/unit” signs on both units, and the owner was told a permit was required for repairs. Inspectors have made three more visits to the site since then, records show.

On Tuesday, Crescent notified residents they have to leave the building by June 2. The company is providing double-occupancy hotel rooms to residents who renewed their leases, as well as $500, storage for their items and a $140-a-week stipend for any extra expenses. Crescent says it will be making “modifications” to fix any problems with the floors in June and July, and the apartment complex will be ready for occupancy again by the start of next school year.

Collins said the company doesn’t yet know whether there was a problem with the floor trusses when they were installed or whether the problems cropped up later. He said the Circle University was built to meet all required building codes.

“It is unclear at this point in time whether this issue existed at the time of construction or happened since then,” Collins said. “This is the first time in my career I have seen something like this materialize.”

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Twitter: @ESPortillo