Tuscaloosa, Alabama—Education Realty Trust (“EDR”) and Edwards Companies executives were in a meeting regarding a joint project to build collegiate housing at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa when they received startling news. A tornado had just devastated an area of the city very close to the project they were discussing.
Very quickly, the companies’ focus shifted from business to how they and their employees could help Tuscaloosa recover from the tornado. The April 2011 twister’s destruction “made us feel very vulnerable,” Tom Trubiana, executive vice-president and chief executive officer of Memphis-based EDR, tells MHN.
“A number of our people have sons and daughters who attend the school, our president and CEO Randy Churchey is a graduate, and we actually built an on-campus residence hall for the University of Alabama. We had developed relationships with the university, and the community. It very much hit home.”
EDR, a large owner, developer and manager of collegiate housing, and Edwards Companies, a Columbus, Ohio-based corporation that serves as a holding company for numerous operating companies involved in student housing development and construction, had made considerable strides in planning their joint-venture development, the East Edge Collegiate Apartments.
“All the plans were in place, and the timetable was in place for demolition of the existing buildings on the site and for breaking ground when we eventually did,” Trubiana says. “But when the tornado hit, we didn’t know what would happen to that timetable. We thought there might be a delay of as much as a year. But as time went on, we were encouraged by the city of Tuscaloosa to proceed, because the development would ease some housing shortages.”
Soon after the tornado destroyed Tuscaloosa, EDR and Edwards Companies were working together to make sizable corporate donations to charities participating in Tuscaloosa’s tornado relief efforts.
Then EDR staff got involved, organizing a pantry donation and a blood drive through the American Red Cross, and launching a multi-pronged endeavor they called “FUNdraising,” which included a silent auction, omelet breakfast and other efforts that netted more than $4,000. Another $1,000 was donated through payroll deductions, and EDR’s business, development and construction partners and vendors gave more than $12,000.
Altogether, the charitable efforts generated more than $22,000, which was made available to the University of Alabama Acts of Kindness Fund and to the West Alabama Chamber Foundation Inc./Tornado Relief Fund.
Ground was broken in mid-July for East Edge Collegiate Apartments, which will feature four buildings and 337 apartment units housing 774 students, on the east side of the UA campus near the law and nursing schools.
The project will offer fully furnished units, a clubhouse with a fitness center, a movie theater, a resort-style swimming pool and a sand volleyball court. Completion is slated for July 2012, and Trubiana says “consideration is being given to some sort of remembrance of the tornado and its victims” at the site.
Editor’s note: Read the first-hand account of a Tuschaloosa Tornado first responder: “First Response to Tornado Damage at Alabama Seniors Community”