The lows of Aspen Heights

Violations, a death and unfinished construction linger in the minds of some students who regret signing leases with Aspen Heights in its inaugural year.

During construction of Aspen Heights, an apartment complex on 18th and P streets, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined multiple construction contractors for failing the safety and health regulations of its workers.

Five companies involved in building a private student housing project faced $115,000 in combined fines for safety hazards at the job site.

The companies fined for safety violations include East Framing Inc., South Georgia Framers, America’s Best Siding, ProCon Construction Services and Texas-based developer Aspen Heights.

The fines were issued following a December 2015 investigation into the Lincoln Aspen Heights location.

According to an OSHA Regional News Release, East Framing Inc. and South Georgia Framers “willfully exposed employees to falls and other safety hazards.”

The news release said the agency cited ProCon Construction Services LLC and America’s Best Siding for exposing workers to hazards on the site. Inspectors also cited Aspen Heights of Austin, Texas, the controlling employer contractor on the project.

In addition to the December investigations, the Aspen Heights building project in Lincoln had already been fined by OSHA for three major safety violations that led to the death of a worker while on site.

Michael Snider was killed by a piece of reinforcing bar that fell and struck him on the head while working on the Aspen Heights job site in June 2015. The safety violations were issued to CBS Pilings Solutions Inc., a drilling contractor based out of Missouri in October.

In total, the drilling contractor was given a proposed penalty of $14,700 for three serious safety violations that led to the death of Snider.

But for some students living at Aspen Heights, learning about these safety violations was a surprise.

Aspen resident and sophomore business administration major Cole Hoofnagle was never made aware of the multiple safety violations that were issued during the construction of the apartment complex.

“The only way that I found out about the violations was through research of my own,” Hoofnagle said.

The first of the three OSHA citations states that CBS Piling Solutions Inc. failed to instruct employees about regulations related to their environment so that they may control or eliminate hazards.

The citation said the employer failed to “adequately train employees to recognize, avoid, and prevent struck by hazards associated with deep drilling while working around cranes with suspended loads.”

The second citation said the employer also failed to make sure that the materials being hoisted when employees were “hooking, unhooking or guiding the load were rigged to prevent unintentional displacement.”

The citation then acknowledges the June occurrence where Snider was struck by a piece of rebar after it slipped from a synthetic web sling, saying “the employer had an employee that did not meet requirements of a qualified rigger rigging an 80-foot-long piece of rebar.”

However, investigators say they were quick to react to Snider’s death.

“With investigations related to fatalities, we try to begin our investigations within 24 hours of occurrence,” said Darwin Craig, assistant area director for OSHA.

The final citation states the employer failed to only have essential employees in the fall zone during tilt-up or tilt-down operations.

Regardless of the citations, Aspen Heights opened as scheduled for tenants this fall.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln junior Michael Martin moved into Aspen a week before the start of the fall semester to find his room unfinished. Dust was leftover from construction and a toilet was not installed properly.

“It’s weird because I had a lot of other friends who live in Aspen who moved into their room and it was fine,” Martin said.

Multiple attempts made by The Daily Nebraskan to reach an Aspen Heights representative via email, phone call and in person regarding these allegations were left unreturned as of press time.

In response to Martin’s room issues, Aspen Heights gave him a free month of rent and a manager paid for a dinner from Chipotle for Martin and his friends.

In addition to providing Martin with free rent and food, the issues with the room were resolved within a couple of days.

“If they wouldn’t have hooked us up with dinner and rent, I would have been mad because I signed a contract saying I was moving in on this date,” he said.

Despite Aspen Heights being able to quickly resolve Martin’s living issues, he admits that there are still some inconveniences about living there.

“It’s still kind of annoying being woken up by construction and sometimes the elevators are a little sketchy,” Martin said. “I kind of knew that something like this could happen considering it is a new apartment complex.”

"Right now I’m paying over $1000 for rent, and I feel like I’m maybe getting $200 to $300 worth."

- Cole Hoofnagle

Other than these inconveniences, Martin said it’s been a good experience living at Aspen.

Hoofnagle, on the other hand, said his experience has been the opposite.

“I do not want to live there,” Hoofnagle said. “Our room has not been cleaned in over three weeks, the keys to the bedrooms were not working for a long time and one of our windows would not close all the way. Right now I’m paying over $1000 for rent, and I feel like I’m maybe getting $200 to $300 worth.”

One of the largest problems Hoofnagle finds with Aspen is not issues with his apartment, but rather with communication.

“It took over a week for someone to actually fix our window,” said Hoofnagle. “And if you have anything negative to say or report, it seems like they completely ignore you. I feel like they have pretty much blacklisted me.”

In addition, Hoofnagle said the death of a construction worker has left him uneasy.

"I don't really feel comfortable living there knowing that, on top of all these violations, someone died when the place was being built,” he said.