116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — An excavator lifts slowly, opening its jaws to grab a large piece of the roof, and then smashes the pieces of wood, shingles and twisted metal down onto the collapsed porch.
A Wellington Heights rental house at 1504 Sixth Ave. SE — that caught fire in 2017 and has been an neighborhood eyesore for five years — was finally being demolished Thursday.
“It’s a blessing to see this torn down,” said Charles Cook, who once lived next door to the damaged house. “I lived here for five years, and I never thought I’d see this. I just happen to be visiting my mom and heard it was being torn down. I had to come over and see it.”
Cook, who now lives in Arizona, said he always worried about his kids and others playing outside after the fire because glass and debris were everywhere. The city finally boarded up the house, but nothing else happened.
“It’s just an eyesore on the block,” Cook said. “There was another house that caught fire just down the street, but it was torn down right away.”
New home coming
Hope Community Development Association will now build a new house on the lot.
Ron Ziegler, the association’s executive director, initially talked to The Gazette in April about his group’s desire to tear down and replace the house. A $100,000 federal grant, administered by the city, made that possible.
“The demolition of the house would have been impossible to do without grant money,” Ziegler said. “This will be our first new construction home. We have renovated 12 houses and have two under construction, and this will be our third.”
About $65,000 will go toward the house, and the rest will be used on another house, Ziegler said.
The demolition and upcoming construction, he said, are the perfect analogy for the Christian nonprofit’s mission — “taking something that is not very worthwhile and rebuilding men’s lives. This visualizes life changes.”
The nonprofit will put the new affordable home on the market to sell to a lower-income family, which helps revitalize the neighborhood and train Hope Community participants — men coming out of prison or off drugs, who face employment barriers.
The six men in the training program and will be learning on the job. Ken Hart, the volunteer construction manager, will teach and guide the men through framing, siding and insulation work.
Ziegler said Ken-Way Excavation donated its labor Thursday for the demolition, which was more costly than other such jobs because the fire left behind environmental and asbestos concerns.
The house rubble will be crushed and hauled away by Ken-Way, which also will fill in the hole left behind before the new home’s foundation is set.
Ray Phillipson Concrete in Marion and Manchester has donated free labor to help with construction. An electrician has volunteered his labor, and the search is on for a plumber who’s willing to help.
Eight Days of Hope, a Christian nonprofit disaster relief organization in Tupelo, Miss., donates building materials for projects like this and Hope Community has requested materials but Hart said he didn’t know if they would receive those supplies.
The nonprofit relies on donations for its rehab program, but still it’s difficult to break even and make a profit to put back into programs, said Hart, a former Maquoketa Valley school shop teacher and guidance counselor.
Those two jobs, he said, prepared him to teach the men in the Hope program who are looking for a new life.
Hart said the men ask him spiritual, emotional and remodeling questions.
“They wear me out,” Hart said, laughing. “It has been interesting, and I really enjoy it. It’s been fun to do something new.”
Ziegler said the construction projects usually take longer because the men aren’t skilled workers, but he hopes to complete the new, three-bedroom house in a year.
This year, men will work on the house “until the snow flies,” Hart said, adding a hope they don’t encounter problems getting building supplies and lumber, now that prices are coming down from pandemic highs.
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