City breaks record for most construction projects in a year; senior living community breaks ground on $12 million campus
It is now official: Lawrence’s construction industry has had a record-breaking year, and the city is on pace in 2015 to issue building permits for more than $200 million worth of construction for the first time in its history.
The latest building report shows Lawrence City Hall has issued permits for $187.8 million worth of construction. That’s better than the old record of $171.9 million set in 2013. This latest report tracks building activity through August, so Lawrence still has four more months to add to its record-setting total.
My abacus tells me that Lawrence needs only about $13 million of additional construction to get to the $200 million mark. That’s $3.25 million a month, and, thus far in 2015, every single month has produced that level of construction, and most of the time much more. So, absent a significant slowdown to close the year, Lawrence is going to reach a new stratosphere in the construction world.
In August, construction of another retirement community helped push the city over the mark. As we previously reported, Missouri-based Americare is building a new assisted living facility at Peterson and Monterey Way. That construction is now underway. The company pulled permits for $12.5 million worth of construction, including a 16-unit assisted living center, a 30-unit multifamily, independent living center, two triplexes, four duplexes, eight carports and a clubhouse. The Americare project was the largest new building project of the month. Americare officials previously have told us they hope to have the project open about this time next year.
Single-family home construction also has helped add to the party. As we previously have reported, home sales in Lawrence recently experienced their sixth straight month of increases. Home builders are responding by picking up the pace of new construction, although new home construction is still not what I would consider booming. But, the city issued 18 permits for single family homes and duplexes in August. That’s the best August total in at least six years.
Year-to-date single-family and duplex construction is having its best year in recent memory. The city has issued 170 permits through August. That’s up from 66 at this point last year. The 170 permits are also well above the the five-year average of 87 permits.
Apartment construction also is having its best year in quite a while. The city has issued permits for 467 living units of apartments. That’s the highest total since 2008.
A pair of apartment projects indeed have been the biggest difference makers in Lawrence’s record-setting year. The Here @ Kansas project — the multistory apartment and retail building across from KU’s Memorial Stadium — has been the largest project of the year at $45 million. The multistory apartment and office building under construction at the northeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets is No. 2 at $18.7 million.
In total, the city has had 14 projects that have come in at $1 million or more. Here’s a look:
— Here @ Kansas apartment/retail building: $45 million
— 100 E. Ninth St. apartment/office building: $18.7 million
— Wakarusa River wastewater treatment plant: $13.3 million
— Americare Assisted Living Campus: $12.5 million
— Pioneer Ridge Independent Living: $12 million
— Wakarusa wastewater pump station: $7.5 million
— Hutton Farms residential development: $6.2 million
— LMH fourth-floor renovation: $3.8 million
— Single-family home 116 N. Wilderness Way: $2.7 million
— Phi Delta Theta renovation: $2.6 million
— Phi Gamma Delta addition: $2 million
— Kansas River wastewater treatment plant addition: $1.9 million
— Peaslee Technical Career Center renovation: $1 million
— Single-family home 3642 Buck Brush Court: $1 million
The list is kind of interesting to analyze. It shows major activity on two fronts: construction geared toward the young and construction geared toward the old. As you may expect in a university town, construction geared toward the young — the Here project and the greek house expansions add up to about $50 million — is in the lead. But it is interesting to note that Lawrence has about $25 million worth of construction work underway related to senior living.
And don’t forget about the sewer plant improvements. Sewer plant improvements are now at about $23 million. (Coincidentally, that is about equal to the amount of senior living construction underway. At least I think it is a coincidence. Or maybe it is in response to aging prostates. I don’t know.)
One other thing to keep in mind is that the building permit totals don’t fully reflect all of the construction that has been going on in Lawrence. As we have noted, the millions of dollars worth of school district renovations have not received a building permit, and thus don’t show up in these construction totals. Future projects will, though. Plus, as has long been the case, KU projects also don’t show up in the totals. KU projects go through the state-approved building process. So, the millions of dollars in dormitory work and construction of the new business school building aren’t included. Roadwork also isn’t included in any totals, but the South Lawrence Trafficway construction is one of the largest construction projects ever undertaken in the city. That is approximately $130 million worth of construction.
I’ve always considered 1996 to be the biggest building year in the 25 years or so that I’ve covered Lawrence’s construction scene. That was the year when we built 972 new apartment units in town, 338 new single-family homes and 122 new duplexes. It is interesting to note how much more reliant that building boom was on residential construction.
In total, there was $167 million worth of new construction that took place in 1996. (I spent most of the year wearing my neon orange blazer just so I felt like I could fit in with the crowd of construction workers wearing their orange safety vests. It was marvelous, until I started dating my future wife and the blazer somehow got lost.)
The 1996 total of $167 million, when adjusted for inflation, would be about $253 million in today’s dollars. So, we’ll see what the rest of the year brings in terms of new construction projects. You certainly could make the case that this year may be the best construction year ever for Lawrence.
I know I’m certainly going to look for the blazer.
Major duplex development planned near Kasold and Peterson; Farmer to hold listening sessions; city gets update on Ninth Street arts corridor
Maybe duplex living is going to make a comeback in Lawrence. (Again, my apologies to multiple Lawrence duplex residents. I thought “party wall” meant something completely different.) Plans have been filed to build 87 duplex living units near the corner of Kasold Drive and Peterson Road, which would be the largest duplex development in Lawrence since at least 2005.
Plans have been filed to expand the Hutton Farms development near the intersection. The plans call for the development of about 16 vacant acres just to the west of the existing multifamily development. The development will feature private streets and clubhouse access, and it's being described as an “exclusive residential community.”
The development group — the plans don’t make it entirely clear who will develop the property, but it is owned by a group led by Thomas Fritzel — plan to start construction in March and have units ready to occupy by August, according to the plans. The Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission will consider a preliminary development plan for the project at its Jan. 26 meeting. The property already has received some preliminary approvals. Back when Hutton Farms was approved several years ago, this piece of ground was identified as a Phase II development for the project. Back then, plans called for up to 102 living units on the site. The current plans have reduced that to 87 living units. One change from those original plans is that the development is seeking a curb cut on Peterson Road, which has been improved since Hutton Farms was originally approved.
Look for other duplex development to happen in the area as well. As we previously have reported, a new assisted living/retirement community is planned for the southwest corner of Peterson Road and Monterey Way. Well, it now looks like that development also will include some duplex construction. A new final development plan has been filed for that project, which is being built by Columbia, Mo.-based Americare. The latest plans show the project will have 14 units of new duplex living units (in other words, seven building with two units apiece.) Plans also call for a pair of one-bedroom triplexes. The duplexes and triplexes will serve as independent living units for seniors. The project also still includes an assisted living building that will have 30 one-bedroom units, and a separate assisted living facility that will have 10 one-bedroom and six two-bedroom living units.
The project — which will operate under the names Parkway Gardens and The Arbors — plans to have a special emphasis on caring for Alzheimer’s patients and their families. No word on when the facility will open, but the final development plan is usually a sign that construction is set to kick into high gear. Indeed, dirt work is already underway at the site.
The largest duplex project in the city, however, may be occurring at 31st and Kasold. As we have reported previously, the large amount of construction at the Kasold Curve is for a new residential neighborhood being developed by Lawrence real estate broker Mike McGrew and others. The development is expected to have about 130 townhomes, or about 65 structures.
Clearly the duplex trend is making a comeback in Lawrence. Between 2001 and 2004, Lawrence builders constructed more than 200 duplex living units each and every year. Then the market started to fade away. More recently, there have been fewer than 20 built in most years.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Lawrence city commissioners are in the mood to get an earful these days. They recently heard plenty of feedback about what residents didn’t like about the proposal to build a $28 million police headquarters facility. Now City Commissioner Jeremy Farmer plans to host a series of listening sessions to get feedback about major projects the city should tackle over the next five years.
Farmer has set dates for four listening sessions where he wants to hear ideas related to “people, projects and programs." The dates are:
— 6 p.m. Feb. 11 at the North Lawrence Depot;
— 7 p.m. Feb. 12 at the East Lawrence Recreation Center;
— 6 p.m. Feb. 16 at Fire Station No. 5;
— 6 p.m. Feb. 26 at Sports Pavilion Lawrence.
The main idea behind the listening session is that several residents have been telling commissioners that they don’t believe the commission has done a good job of long-range planning for the city. Some were particularly concerned that both the library expansion and the Rock Chalk Park project ended up receiving city funding before a police headquarters project was taken to the voters in November.
Farmer said he wants to hear what large building projects the city should be thinking about over the next five years, and what priority ought to be placed on them. But Farmer said he also wants to hear ideas on projects other than buildings. That may include programs to boost mental health care, expanded recycling, homeless services or any host of topics that might be on the mind of residents. Farmer said he plans to gather all the comments from the sessions and then prepare a report for the entire commission sometime in March.
Farmer, who if tradition holds, is in line to become mayor in April, said he plans to have several listening sessions on different topics during the final two years of his term.
“I think we have not done as good of job listening as we need to,” Farmer said. “I think we got the wake-up call with the police headquarters vote.”
• There will be a lot of listening going on about the plan to convert a portion of Ninth Street into an arts corridor. Commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday received an update about how the consultant plans to gather input for the project, which will stretch from about Massachusetts Street to Delaware Street in East Lawrence.
Josh Shelton, a principal with the design firm el dorado inc., told commissioners his company has put together a plan that will provide multiple opportunities for East Lawrence, downtown Lawrence, artists and other key stakeholders to be involved in the design of the project, which is envisioned to produce a new street, sidewalks and multiple places for public art along the corridor.
The proposed process creates two steering committees: one general steering committee that will include a mix of city officials, neighborhood representatives and other stakeholders; and a second technical steering committee that also will include a mix of City Hall and community members. The general steering committee is expected to meet at least once a month with the project team. The technical steering committee will meet later in the process.
The process also proposes three “public design workshops.” The first one will discuss the role of public art in the process. The second one will discuss the concepts of complete street design, urban landscaping and multimodal transportation. The third one will discuss the history of the project area and how it may shape the project’s design.
Shelton is proposing about a $290,000 contract to oversee the initial Phase I design of the project. Commissioners are scheduled to vote on that contract at next week’s City Commission meeting. El Dorado also is expected to get a phase II contract to do more detailed design work. A price hasn’t yet been set for that work, but has been estimated to be between $275,000 to $375,000.
The total project is expected to cost about $3.3 million to design and build. The Lawrence Arts Center plans to contribute $350,000 through grants and other funds. The remainder would come from city tax dollars.
The project has drawn concern from some East Lawrence residents, who have said they are worried the corridor will turn East Lawrence into an entertainment district and make the area unaffordable for many current residents. Shelton, however, met recently with the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association, and city officials said they feel like the project is gaining the trust of East Lawrence residents. Shelton said he’s also sought to assure stakeholders that getting their input and ideas is a critical part of the project.
“That is part of doing urban design the right way,” Shelton said. “Tapping the creative talent that Lawrence has is going to be very exciting.”
Plans filed for new assisted living facility in northwest Lawrence; City Hall still interested in buying streetlight system
Being the university community that it is, Lawrence is used to receiving a new senior class each year. But the idea of a senior class in Lawrence is starting to take on a new meaning. With this class, there are probably fewer keg stands, but I bet there are still some wicked pranks with Fixodent.
Surely you have heard the talk that Lawrence is trying to become more of a destination for retirees and seniors. Well, the assisted living industry is taking note. Plans for what likely will be a multimillion-dollar assisted living facility have been filed at City Hall for vacant ground in northwest Lawrence.
Officials with the Americare assisted living group have filed plans for a 46-unit complex at the southwest corner of Peterson Road and Monterey Way.
According to the documents, the project would include a single-story, 30-unit, general assisted living facility, plus a 16-unit, single-story building that will specialize in assisted living for people who need memory care services.
The plans also show a potential phase II including another 16 units of memory care and assisted living and a 22-unit "independent living cottage development." No timeline for phase II has been determined.
For those of you still trying to picture the site, the property is a bit west of the exclusive Fall Creek Farms neighborhood near Kasold and Peterson. The property is vacant, agricultural ground. The property is zoned to accommodate large-lot, single family homes. Americare officials want to have the ground changed to a medium-density apartment zoning (RM-12 zoning, if you have your zoning scorecard handy). But the developers are willing to place conditions on the zoning that would restrict traditional apartment style development.
The site is about 20 acres, but the development as proposed only would occupy about two thirds of the land. Plans for the remaining third haven't been determined, according to the City Hall filing.
As for Americare, it has a number of senior living facilities throughout the Midwest. According to its website, it has 15 facilities in Kansas, although it looks like Lawrence would be its largest market in the state. It looks like the nearest Americare facilities to Lawrence are in Osage City and Paola.
Based on the paperwork filed at City Hall, it looks like the company has its offices in Columbia, Mo. According to its website, Americare is the company that has developed the TigerPlace independent living complex near the University of Missouri. TigerPlace has an affiliation with the University of Missouri's Sinclair School of Nursing, and has been mentioned by Lawrence leaders as an example of what MU is doing to attract retired alumni back to Columbia.
The Lawrence project will need to win both Planning Commission and City Commission approval. Look for those hearings to happen in the next couple of months.
In other news and notes from around town:
• City commissioners at their meeting last night directed staff members to keep exploring the idea of buying the city's streetlight system from Westar Energy.
The city is paying about $600,000 per year for the 3,500 streetlights owned and maintained by Topeka-based Westar. City officials predict that the rates for the lights will go up by about another 10 percent once the Kansas Corporation Commission is finished with its latest Westar rate case.
Buying the system won't be cheap. For one thing, Westar hasn't said it is interested in selling it. But other communities such as Leawood, Overland Park, Lenexa and a few other Kansas City-area communities have bought streetlight systems from Kansas City Power & Light. City Auditor Michael Eglinski estimated that those communities paid about $800 to $1,000 per pole to buy their systems, although prices vary widely based on condition. That would equate to about $2.8 million to $3.5 million for the Lawrence system.
Eglinski also estimates that those cities are saving about 40 percent on their annual costs by owning their own lights. The cities still have to buy electricity from the utility, but they don't have to pay the maintenance and lease fees for the poles and equipment.
City commissioners on Tuesday said they were interested in the idea, in part because owning the system would allow the city to make the system more environmentally friendly. Specifically, it may allow the city to more easily change the system to LED bulbs, which use a lot less energy than traditional streetlights.
Currently, making the switch to LED lights is tough to do with Westar, City Hall staff members told commissioners. That's because Westar requires that a meter be installed for streetlights that have an LED light bulb. Westar charges a significant monthly fee for every meter and city officials said that often offsets the cost savings associated with the LED's lower energy usage.
The city would like Westar to adopt a policy where it estimates the energy use of a typical LED streetlight and uses that to bill the city each month. That's the system used with traditional streetlights. My understanding is that Westar has an LED pilot project in a few communities, including Tonganoxie. No word on when Westar may bring LEDs to Lawrence.
It didn't take much reading of the tea leaves last night to see that several city commissioners aren't real happy with Westar and how they treat the streetlight system. (Westar officials weren't at Tuesday's meeting, by the way.) Eglinski provided a report in 2009 that raised questions about whether Westar was overbilling the city in some instances for streetlights. Westar officials disagreed with several of the findings in that report, but did acknowledge that it is operating some pretty old lighting technology in parts of the city. It appears some commissioners haven't forgotten that.
"If we buy the system maybe we could strike a deal where we take the fixtures off the poles and give them back to Westar and they can use them on some other city that they want to stick it to," Mayor Mike Dever said during the meeting. "We don't want those old things."
As I said, the tea leaves weren't hard to read. It will be interesting to see where they lead.