The construction of the new Lehigh Business Innovation Building is affecting adjacent off-campus housing and the students living there.
Concerns from nearby residents and owners include safety, noise levels, parking convenience and renting disruptions.
Quadratus Construction Management began construction of the business building over a year ago and is now expected to finish by the end of this year.
The construction site is located between four streets: East Packer Avenue, Taylor Street, Webster Street and Van Buren Street. These streets offer off-campus housing options for Lehigh students. Some of these homes are owned by Fifth Street Properties, an off-campus housing provider for students.
James Byszewski is the co-owner of Fifth Street Properties. He wrote in an email to The Brown and White that some of their rentals share a road with the construction site.
Byszewski wrote that a meeting was held on Aug. 18 between nearby property owners, representatives from the university, Quadratus Construction Company and the City of Bethlehem to discuss physical changes to the area.
In late August, scaffolding was put up on Van Buren Street, on the north side of the construction site.
Byszewski wrote that he went to Van Buren Street the day after the meeting to measure the actual dimensions of the equipment that is now occupying the street. His measurements found the street is less than 3 feet wide now, barely enough for two people to walk side by side.
“There is absolutely no protection provided against the potential for falling objects from above,” Byszewski wrote. “Something as small as a screwdriver or tape measure falling from that height can pose a deadly risk to unprotected pedestrians below.”
Victor Lin, ‘23, said he often uses a “shortcut” to get from Fairchild-Martindale Library and Farrington Square to Rauch Business Center. This path crosses through Van Buren Street.
“The street is very narrow now, and I’m always worried that something will fall off the scaffolding above my head and hit me because there’s no protection,” Lin said. “I go through there fast every time.”
Ryanne Cox, ‘24, said she was leaving her home on Van Buren Street directly behind the construction site last week when a slab of “some material” fell from the scaffolding, missing her by a few feet.
“That was kind of jarring, I’m not going to lie,” Cox said. “That is definitely a safety concern.”
Byszewski wrote that five residents have recently moved out of houses that Fifth Street Properties on Van Buren Street. Almost all these houses are occupied by Lehigh students, some saying the construction is affecting their daily lives.
Quinn Klessel, ‘24, is Cox’s roommate — except her window directly faces the construction site, affecting noise levels and triggering privacy concerns.
“If I don’t sleep with my air conditioner on, I’m awake at 6 a.m., hearing them start their day,” Klessel said. “I wake up and just wave to them in the rooms that they are in, 6 feet away from my window.”
Cox and Klessel both said the construction is affecting their sleep, which is in turn affecting their academic performance.
Byszewski wrote that he was under the impression construction would occur from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., but city ordinances allow construction from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Jackie Thompson, ‘23, lives on the corner of Webster Street and Van Buren Street, slightly further from the construction than Cox and Klessel. Thompson said the noise helps her get up in the morning, but she understands the impact it can have on residents closer to the site.
“I’m sure a lot of people find it annoying,” Thompson said. “And I think my housemates get annoyed by it as well.”
Currently, students who are living on Van Buren Street were given the opportunity by the university to park their cars in the garage next to Zoellner Arts Center, which Byszewski wrote is a long way from home for Van Buren residents.
Lori Friedman, director of media relations at Lehigh, said the university is considering student and community safety while also providing temporary solutions.
She said the construction manager of the business building regularly contacts the city, all road closures have been approved and city agencies and other regulatory agencies like Occupational Safety and Health Administration have reviewed and inspected the site to ensure work is done appropriately.
“The safety of Lehigh students and our neighbors is a high priority and a top consideration in our approach, and the construction is in compliance with all applicable zoning, permitting and review processes, including city requirements for emergency access,” Friedman said. “The university has offered free parking on campus to all of the students living on Van Buren who are impacted by the construction.”
Byszewski wrote the groups responsible for construction activities on and just off the site are confusing, especially with “virtually no separation” between the construction site and pedestrian thoroughfare.
Almost three weeks after Byszewski took his own measurements of Van Buren Street, he said LUPD cited him for criminal trespassing on behalf of another party. He said the explanation provided to him was the danger from not wearing “appropriate PPE, including a hardhat and steel-toed footwear as prescribed by OSHA recommendations,” close to the site.
“It is disappointing to me that the university and the professionals they claim to rely on do not seem to be concerned about the public’s health and safety, but then choose to bring a criminal complaint against me as soon as I challenge their claims,” Byszewski wrote. “Regardless of the legal or contractual arrangements, the university has not lived up to its moral obligation to not put its students at unnecessary risk of physical harm.”
Friedman said the university will continue to communicate with those impacted by the construction to provide information about upcoming work, safety protocols and timelines.
Byszweski wrote that he will continue to insist all parties involved do more to mitigate possible harm done to pedestrians and residents.