In limbo

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Fifty-five liens have been filed against three different entities affilliated with Wheatfields Senior Living Community.

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

In the early winter of 2006, plans were announced for the development of Wheatfields Senior Living Center, a 12 1/2-acre lot just south of the intersection of North Prince Street and Wilhite Road.

The announcement was shortly followed by a flurry of construction activity as local and out-of-town contractors began work on the $20-million project that was to feature 64 assisted living apartments, 10 retirement cottages and 24 Alzheimer’s accommodations with 24-hour nursing care and group meals available for all residents.

However, the project is now at a standstill, leaving contractors trying to recoup their losses, prospective residents making other plans, and a West Coast investor scrambling to save what has become an abandoned albatross on the north end of Clovis.

Jilted contractors

County records show 55 liens have been filed against three entities affiliated with the project.

Those liens represent an estimated $3 million or more in project expenses ranging from work by carpenters, plumbers and electricians to fuel for equipment and supplies.

Tim Ashley, who owns Clovis Concrete, said his company was one of the first to come in on the project after the dirt work was complete and problems quickly became glaringly obvious.

Ashley said the management company for the project paid the principal on his company’s bill, satisfying the majority of the near $45,000 lien he filed against them.

Others weren’t so lucky.

Nick Griego and Sons Construction came into the project after Clovis Concrete and are owed $175,000, according to a lien filed in February 2008.

“We’ve really never had to sue anybody to get our money. This is really one of the first times we’ve had this happen to us,” said Gerald Griego, part owner of the company.

After payment went into arrears, Griego said his company discovered the general contractor, KDA Construction out of Washington, was actually the same company as the firm overseeing the project, Sunwest Management.

Griego said by the time his company began working for the project, he believes the money had dried up and they were hired on false pretenses.

“I believe that KDA entered into the project fraudulently with us because they didn’t have the money when we got into it,” he said, explaining the financial hit, “makes it a little hard to operate, but we’re managing.”

KDA Construction has also filed a lien for more than $76,000 against the facility.

An answering machine for KDA construction’s telephone listing said the company has downsized.

A message left seeking comment was not returned.

The problem and finding a solution

Eric Jacobsen, an Oregon investor who spoke on behalf of Wheatfields, said he is one of 30 investors who were essentially left holding the bag for the soured project, and he is desperately seeking funding to complete the facility and get it functional.

They still believe it is a viable project that can be brought to fruition as originally planned.

Jacobsen said he has partnered with Sunwest Management in the past.

There was money for the project in the beginning, Jacobsen said, however it wasn’t used appropriately and it was soon discovered the project was “under budgeted” so Sunwest Management went out and raised a second, then a third round of capital and kept things moving.

But the real problems surfaced when Sunwest and KDA, which Jacobsen said are owned by the same people, began experiencing internal financial issues.

The two companies exhausted the money for the project in an effort to save themselves and are now in the process of bankruptcy, Jacobsen said, leaving he and other investors no recourse.

After he discovered the problems in August, Jacobsen said Sunwest assigned their assets to him and he is trying to borrow the money to complete the project.

“What I’m trying to do is get this project back on track in an incredibly difficult situation,” he said, explaining he is in the process of negotiating with a lender to obtain the funds needed to complete the project and satisfy the liens from the original construction.

“I never wanted to (be this involved), that’s why I brought the project to Sunwest. Typically I don’t get this involved, but I’m trying to preserve value for the lender myself and for all other stakeholders in the project,” he said.

The residents

A portion of the cottages on the property that were completed are being occupied, though Jacobsen said they are simply rentals because the geriatric care portion of the project was never completed and so those services are not available to tenants.

And there are numerous prospective residents who gave $100 deposits for a spot in the facility and are still waiting for its completion.

Barbara Hilgenfeld said she was excited when she learned of the project and put a deposit down for her mother to move into the independent living cottages a couple of years ago.

“From what I understood when I went out there and talked to them, supposedly they had all kinds of reservations and they talked about how great the health care was going to be, so I assumed everything was good to go. … My brother and I were real excited about it and thought it was a really great thing. It sounded like the greatest place in the world,” she recalled.

“But every time I went by there to see how they were coming along it seemed like nothing was getting done.”

As months passed, Hilgenfeld said her mother’s need for care progressed.

She became concerned and started looking elsewhere for arrangements and settled on another local nursing home.

Hilgenfeld said her $100 deposit was not returned.

Jacobsen assured that all deposits would be refunded if requested.