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Julia Ronney keeps a plastic tub in her bathroom at the new ROAM Student Living apartments to catch the drips from the leak in the ceiling.

ROAM managers Campus Advantage have responded to multiple leak complaints promptly and sent workers to try to help, Ronney said. So far, though, the water keeps falling onto the floor, and the bathroom molding shows the damage.

The other day, Brennan Kappes walked past an unlocked gate across the fourth floor stairwell, and it opened to a free fall for anyone who might have stepped through it by accident. A couple of days later, that gate was padlocked, but students walked around power tools and breathed fumes in the halls.

"They're just lucky no one has gotten hurt yet," Kappes said.

Built by Farran Realty Partners and marketed to students, ROAM is a 468-bed housing project near Kiwanis Park anticipated to cost developers some $38 million and receive $3.2 million in public redevelopment funds. Last week, residents said the finished units are mostly well done, but the pace of construction means tenants are living in a building that looks like a construction zone.

In a walk through the site and via email, residents and a guest pointed to a range of issues, from annoyances such as paint smudges on walls, to safety concerns such as the power tools in resident halls, fumes and the unsecured gate.

ROAM spokesman Pamela West of Campus Advantage said about 250 occupants are in the building and construction areas are fenced off. She also said "courtesy officers" are working after hours to ensure residents stay in approved areas. And city inspectors have signed off on all occupied apartment units.

"The completed buildings have been approved by city officials, and we were given permission to move residents in," West said in a statement provided by Bloom Communications.

Don Verrue, a certified building official for the city, said the public should not be allowed in areas where construction is still taking place. He also said units permitted for occupancy have working sprinkler systems, fire alarms, and cooking and toilet facilities, although workers might be finishing jobs in the hallways.

"If the contractor missed something, then they may go back into a corridor that we've already approved," Verrue said.

***

Last week, Kappes and his girlfriend offered a tour of her unit and the paths students take to enter and exit the building. His girlfriend did not want to share her name because it's on a lease, but Kappes identified some of the concerns he's heard from her and others.

Because the site is still under construction, some tenants walk down a portion of the street in traffic to reach the northeast entrance. Kappes' girlfriend used a secure key to enter the building, but right next to the door, anyone could walk in through a wide opening in the same corner of the structure.

At times, the elevator has been out of service because of overuse, and to reach their units, residents have to avoid the ladders, dollies and bins with construction materials in the halls. Kappes' girlfriend provided a picture taken Sept. 11 of the gate open above the stairwell on the fourth floor.

Kappes considered moving into the building himself when his girlfriend first showed him pictures of the planned apartment units, and he was happy for her accommodations. The apartments are furnished with big flat-screen televisions, and ROAM was advertised to have a 24-hour fitness center, bike- and ski-tuning room, bike storage, high-speed internet, cable and an enclosed outdoor courtyard with fire pits and grills.

When he visits now, though, Kappes sees the trash chute out of order and garbage piled up nearby, and he's heard friends complain of trouble with air conditioning, slow internet services and flooding.

Prices range from $550 a month for a shared unit in a four-bedroom apartment to $899 for a private one-bedroom, and Kappes and his girlfriend like the actual room. 

On the tour, Cole Ashby walked down the hall bringing home groceries, and he said the situation at ROAM isn't ideal in general, and the parking in particular is difficult.

"It kinda sucks, and the parking sucks," Ashby said. "I've gotten a few parking tickets."

At the same time, he said ROAM managers were doing right by him. He believed the company would pay for his parking tickets, and it has paid for parking passes on campus. Ashby also said he and his roommate are paying for a two-bedroom unit, but they are living in a four-bedroom unit without extra cost.

In an email, resident Sarah Wells said her overall experience with ROAM has been positive. However, she also said residents were allowed to move into the building too early, and she didn't expect to be living in a construction environment.

"Safety is a concern of mine since the fumes from spray paint and construction are prevalent throughout the hallways and stairways," said Wells, a pre-med student at the University of Montana.

She believes more work should have been completed before tenants were allowed to occupy it. "Safety should always be a company's No. 1 priority, and I feel that they could do a better job of it."

***

In the email from Bloom Communications, West said Campus Advantage started moving people into the ROAM building Aug. 13. So far, a little more than 250 residents are in units approved by city officials.

"There is still some construction being completed in the south tower (a building that is not leased because it was always known it would be ready at a later date in the fall) and in some amenity spaces," said West, vice president of operations.

West said that because ROAM was new construction, Campus Advantage included language in its leases that if ROAM wasn’t completed on schedule, residents agreed to temporary housing. She said ROAM is marketed to students, but not all residents are students.

The company has offered some concessions to offset the delay in amenities, West said, and amenities are on track to be completed by the end of September. A company representative noted residents who did not need temporary housing were provided money cards.

West also said many factors go into the completion of a building. Initially, she said in an email from Bloom that the situation with ROAM was unique, but she subsequently said the building received a temporary certificate of occupancy, "which in fact is not unique for multi-family projects."

Last winter, the project encountered contractor problems and delays, said Chris Behan, with the Missoula Redevelopment Agency. The MRA will use tax increment funds to purchase a floor of parking to be managed as public parking, an infusion of $3.2 million into the project.

Behan said Farran has worked on other successful projects, including the Corso apartments in Missoula, and the agency closely vets business partners. However, he said questions about building code compliance aren't for the MRA.

"We have not paid them anything, and we won't until they have a certificate of occupancy for the whole thing," Behan said.

A new contractor has been on the job since problems arose in the winter. Although work was delayed earlier, Behan said he believes construction has started to catch up, and ROAM managers are moving people into the building as soon as possible, "perhaps too quickly."

"It should be safe, and it should be something that they were supposed to expect for paying those kind of rates," Behan said.

A year ago, Farran Realty Partners Managing Partner Jim McLeod said the realty firm was excited to be a partner with Campus Advantage for its "proven success" leasing new developments.

In a statement provided last week by Brianna McKinney, president of Bloom, McLeod said he believes the apartment building will be a positive addition to Missoula.

"While ROAM is not yet 100 percent completed, we believe it will have a positive impact on the downtown area and are excited to be part of the community's fabric," said McLeod.

***

City building records show 317 building inspections completed to date on the project with 16 failures, six passes, 241 partial approvals, and some cancellations and reschedules. Verrue said those outcomes are not out of line for a project of this magnitude, and he noted most of the "failures" are due to the contractor not being ready and postponing a particular inspection.

On Aug. 10, the city granted a conditional certificate of occupancy for the east tower; on Aug. 31, it granted one for the west and north towers. The south tower remains under construction. The conditional occupancy certificates expire on Oct. 15, and Verrue said that's when the whole project should be finished. 

"The ideal way of course is to have a building totally complete, but in this case, it wasn't going to work. I think the city and developer have bent over backwards to get tenants in there," Verrue said.

However, he said they did not compromise safety in doing so. He said the inspector and fire marshal would not allow occupancy if the building was unsafe.

The mayor's office has received phone calls from concerned tenants, but the company put people up in hotels during the wait, Verrue said. He also said contractors and developers do their best in estimating completion times, but doing so isn't easy for such a large project.

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University of Montana, higher education