The Lehigh-affiliated apartment building SouthSide Commons is set to be completed in summer 2019. The building will offer 144 apartments for 424 upperclassmen students. (Rendering courtesy of Brent Stringfellow)

SouthSide Commons changes living conditions as construction begins

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As Lehigh prepares to expand its undergraduate population by 1,000 students over the next 10 years, the university is working to add two new housing options for students.

University architect Brent Stringfellow said the Path to Prominence implementation plan follows five goals, the first of which is “to grow and support residential life.” To achieve this, the university plans to construct one on-campus residence hall and one off-campus housing option, as well as complete renovations to the University Center.

A crane collects debris on the former faculty parking lot on April 6. The construction of SouthSide Commons is taking place off campus at 444 Brodhead Ave., with Packer Avenue bordering the south side of the building. (Mudassir Kadri/B&W Staff)

Bridge West Hall will be constructed on campus in the place of Trembley Park and the Kappa Delta house and will serve as a Lehigh residential hall for underclassmen students. Site preparation will begin in the fall with construction starting in 2019.

The other new residential building, SouthSide Commons, will operate as a Lehigh-affiliated apartment building and will be located just off campus at 444 Brodhead Ave., with Packer Avenue bordering the south side of the building.

Stringfellow said Lehigh leased the land for SouthSide Commons to collegiate housing developer EdR, which will own and operate the building for 50 years.

“It’s a win-win — for universities, it means that you don’t need all of the cash up front, and it’s also a great model, in particular for apartment-style units, not necessarily one we would imagine for first- or second-year students,” Stringfellow said. “We see it as a new type of housing that’s available for students that’s off campus but it’s a different option from having to rent a house.”

Charles Poropatic, the senior director of construction at EdR, said the building will have 144 apartments with 424 beds, and apartment options will include studios and one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom apartments.

Building amenities will include study lounges and a fitness center, and each apartment will offer a full kitchen, air conditioning, and a washer and dryer.

“We like to have high-quality facilities for everyone,” Poropatic said.

SouthSide Commons construction officially began March 1 and will be completed by summer 2019 to allow students to move in the following fall, EdR construction manager Dan Loefflad said.

Loefflad and Poropatic hosted a community orientation meeting at Broughal Middle School on April 9 to inform local residents of the construction plan and address any questions or concerns.

Loefflad said construction will take place every weekday from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., which falls under a city ordinance that allows for construction between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m.

Loefflad said they recognized that starting at 6 a.m. could largely impact the community, and because there is heavy pedestrian traffic between 7:30-8:15 a.m. around Broughal, they have made it their goal to have all construction workers on site by 7 a.m. All deliveries will be restricted until after Broughal begins school at 8:15 a.m.

Students residing on Birkel Avenue, which lines the west side of the construction site, expressed concerns about the early-morning noise coming from the site.

Justin Landowne, ’18, lives on Birkel and said he has been “rudely” awakened every weekday morning since spring break by the construction activity.

“It’s very frustrating, and I’m exhausted by it,” he said.

Landowne said he is also disappointed with the lack of updates about the construction from the university.

John Clark, ’19, is also a resident of Birkel and will continue to live there next year. While he too finds the morning noise annoying, he said he and his housemates thought it would be too inconvenient to move for their senior year.

Shrivats Agarwal, ’20, signed a lease in October 2017 to live on Birkel for the 2018-2019 school year, before he was aware of the nearby construction. Because of his concerns about the early-morning noise, he said he would have reconsidered his living location and explored housing farther from the construction site.

Although Agarwal, Clark and Landowne wish for the construction start time to be pushed back an hour or two, Poropatic said the construction cannot start any later than 7 a.m. for risk of losing contractors or falling off schedule.

Stringfellow said during special times such as the final exam period, the university will place restrictions on the type of work that can be done on site to control noise and minimize disruption to campus life.

Craig Evans, a Bethlehem resident who lives on Montclair Avenue, is not so concerned with construction noise as he is with possible disturbances in the future. He expressed worry about SouthSide Commons’ HVAC system, as he finds the STEPS building’s system to be an annoyance.

“I can’t sit on my porch in the summer without hearing it,” he said.

Evans was glad to hear, however, that the building will not tower over the others surrounding it, as Poropatic said the four-story building will have varying first-floor entrance levels that will keep the building to scale with those nearby.

Joe D’Ambrosio, a landlord of three units on Birkel, has not received complaints from his tenants about the noise, and he believes the new apartment building will improve the surrounding area.

“When people clean up and fix up their place, so does everybody else,” D’Ambrosio said. “Competition is good.”

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