St. Edward’s students living in hotels face uncertainty after construction delays

Alexis Christiansen, a St. Edwards student, waits in an elevator at the hotel where her university has housed her. (KXAN Photo/ Alyssa Goard).
Alexis Christiansen, a St. Edwards student, waits in an elevator at the hotel where her university has housed her. (KXAN Photo/Alyssa Goard).

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As the fall semester comes to a close at St. Edwards University, an on-campus apartment complex designed to house more than 400 students remains unfinished.

The university is planning that the “The Pavilions” will open partially on Jan. 13, but recognizes the date could be pushed back again.

“Our level of confidence is below 100 percent because certain things are beyond our control — weather, labor availability, city approvals,” said St. Edward’s Director of Communications Mischelle Diaz in an email Wednesday.

The possibility of a second delay for this housing has the students who were supposed to live there — some of whom the university has housed in hotels — anxious.

Students were initially told that this housing would be ready in time for the fall semester. But when they weren’t finished in August, St. Edward’s offered temporary housing for students in hotels. Some students who signed up for the Pavilions didn’t want to live in hotels were placed in other on campus housing. Those students will not be moved into the Pavilions in this first phase of the move-in.

The 246 students who plan to move in to the Pavilions on Jan. 13 will be getting daily updates from the University about the likelihood of that happening starting on Jan. 8.

“So they’re preparing for us to move in, but there’s still the possibility that we’d have to live in hotels again for the next few weeks next semester,” said St. Edward’s student Alexis Christiansen, who has been housed by St. Edward’s in an Austin hotel.

On Wednesday, it took her seven minutes to drive from the hotel to campus. She wanted to live in the Pavilions in the first place because she wanted to be on campus, to have space to cook, and to be able to stay at the library working late. Now she feels it’s a hassle and unsafe to stay at the library late working when she has to go back to the hotel. She now studies on her hotel bed instead.

“It’s finals week and I have to move all of my stuff out of the hotel, cause we can’t live there over Christmas break, so I don’t know whether to study or pack,” she said.

“It sucks,” she said, though she added that she’s not sure what else the university could do to accommodate students. She just wished that in the future the university doesn’t “jump the gun and assume when things are gonna be finished.”

Christiansen said that she and many of her peers were encouraged to sign up to live in the Pavilions when they were in their first year at St. Edward’s.

“I would not want anyone to go through what I had to go through,” she said.

The university declined to share the total cost, but noted that St. Edward’s had incurred an expense to house these students in hotels.

Whenever these students do move in, there will be construction going on, though the university notes that the noisiest construction has already been completed. In a second phase of the project all the construction will be completed and the more than 400 students will be moved in to the entire dorm. St. Edward’s does not yet have a timeline for when that second phase will be completed.

St. Edward’s says this is very unusual, they haven’t seen delays this long in recent memory. The primary cause of all these delays is a construction labor shortage in the Austin area, the university said.

Sam Robles with the Workers Defense Project said they’ve seen a labor shortage in Austin and across Texas for years. WDP works with construction workers to help them in ensuring workplace safety and earning back wages.

Robles said that unsafe working conditions and low wages push people out of the industry in Texas. Additionally, the chain between developers, contractors, subcontractors and workers can cause problems. Robles said they see many construction projects where contractors competing for low bids over promise and under budget.

According to WDP, in Texas, a construction worker dies every 3 days and that half of Texas’ construction workforce is undocumented.

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