News and notes from around town:
• It is a sign of the times. There used to be two rites of spring that you could count on in Lawrence years ago: my neighbors cursing the dandelions in my yard, and new single-family homes growing out of the ground even faster than the dandelions.
Well, this spring ended up being somewhat fertile for the local building industry, but not so much on the single-family front. Instead, apartment construction is back in vogue.
City officials issued $12.3 million worth of permits for two apartment projects that will add about 300 living units to the city.
The big project is the $8.3 million Westfield Place Apartments at 204 Eisenhower Drive in northwest Lawrence. The apartments are going up on property that is just a bit north of the Walmart at Sixth and Wakarusa. The project had been approved several years ago but sat dormant. My understanding is Lawrence builder Tim Stultz purchased the ground and is responsible for reviving the project.
The development pulled building permits for 21 apartment buildings. Lawrence architect Paul Werner designed the project and said the buildings all will be two-story, with many of the living units having attached garages. In total, I believe there are 131 living units planned for the development, most of them one- and two-bedroom units. The project also will have a clubhouse.
The second project also is designed by Werner and has received more attention in the past. City officials issued a $3.9 million permit related to the Varsity House Apartments at 1043 Ind.
That apartment project will add 50-plus apartment units in the heart of the Oread neighborhood. It also will be unique for being the first new apartment project in the Oread to build underground parking for its tenants.
But the project has gotten quite a bit of attention because it has necessitated a relocation of the old Varsity House. The 1900s-era home, which had become dilapidated under the ownership of the university, once was the house where KU’s varsity football players lived.
Preservationists fought to ensure the house wasn’t demolished as part of the project, and eventually struck a deal with developer Thomas Fritzel to move the house to a different part of the site at 1043 Ind. Fritzel’s method for moving the house, to the surprise of preservationists, was to disassemble the house and store it off site so that it could be reassembled at a later date.
Recently, folks who have driven by the construction site have asked whether that is still the plan. The site looks dramatically different than it did and is jammed with activity.
Werner, though, said everyone should be assured that Varsity House will be moved back to the site. The house will sit in the southeast corner of the property, which currently is being used for a staging area.
Werner said the pieces of Varsity House currently are sitting in a warehouse being protected from the weather.
These two projects that began in April won’t be the last of the apartment boom in Lawrence. If you remember, a 352-unit project has been approved for the Gaslight Village Mobile Home Park near 31st and Iowa streets. I would expect work on that multimillion dollar project to begin soon.
• The two apartment projects in April provided a nice boost to the city’s building permit totals. According to a new report released by City Hall, officials issued permits for $19.79 million worth of projects during the month. That was well above the $5.5 million worth of projects started in April 2011. This April’s total actually was the largest April total of the last five years, surpassing the $19.4 million total in 2008.
But it was a bit of a mixed bag for single family home construction. Officials issued permits for nine single-family homes in April. That’s down from 14 issued in April 2011. But for the year, single-family construction is tracking slightly above 2011 totals. The city has issued permits for 38 single-family homes through April, up from 33 issued during the same period in 2011. The bad news, however, is 2011 was perhaps the most dismal year on record for the city’s home-building industry.
• There were several large projects in addition to the apartment projects in April. Construction work began on a $1.4 million addition to Raintree Montessori School at 4601 Clinton Parkway. I haven’t seen the final plans, but we reported in September that the school was seeking to add two new classrooms and a large meeting room that also will be used to house the school’s music programs. At the time, school officials said the expansion would allow the school to add 20 to 30 more toddlers to its enrollment.
The health care sector also is providing a boost to the city’s construction scene. Lawrence Memorial Hospital has started work on a $1.5 million renovation of the second-floor north wing, with Kansas City-based J.E. Dunn Construction serving as the contractor. The hospital also started work on a $350,000 medical office renovation at its Medical Office Building at 325 Maine, and a $190,000 remodel at LMH South, 3500 Clinton Parkway.