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Restoration Works: Saving houses on Lansing's East Side

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Photo: T. Zeko/WKAR
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Community leaders in Lansing are saving this home on East Kalamazoo St. from demolition through a partnership called Restoration Works.

By Gretchen Millich, WKAR News

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wkar/local-wkar-949860.mp3

LANSING, MI –

The next time you're driving down Kalamazoo Street on Lansing's east side, look for some large orange signs out in front of two houses. The houses are in pretty bad shape and appear to be empty and abandoned.

But soon, these houses will be renovated. It's a joint project called "Restoration Works", involving the Allen Neighborhood Center, Lansing Community College and the Ingham County Land Bank.

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Before they went into tax foreclosure and were scheduled for demolition, the two houses on East Kalamazoo were notorious among nearby neighbors. One was euphemistically called a "party house." At the second one, renters ran a meth lab in the garage and hosted dog fights. Like so many foreclosed houses in the Lansing area, it looked like these would be torn down.

Enter George Berghorn, who lives in the neighborhood. He was looking for projects for his students in Environmental, Design and Building Technologies at Lansing Community College.

"What seemed to make the most sense was to find a home or a small commercial type building that needed to undergo some significant amount of renovation and retrofit," says Berghorn.

So the idea was hatched to save the two houses from demolition and at the same time, give LCC students the opportunity to renovate them.

The project will begin with the smaller of the two houses. Right now, it's cold and dark. But in a few weeks, wearing tool belts and work boots, the students will start light demolition, removing old appliances and ceiling fans.

The next step is to upgrade the mechanical systems. There's no ductwork, it's all missing for some reason, so the HVAC students are building new ductwork in the lab at LCC. When that's installed, there will be heat.

Upstairs is the bedroom where the fighting dogs were kept. It's too cold now to fully experience the smell.

GM: "We're looking just a really filthy carpet."
GB: "Yeah, just pretty disgusting carpet and potentially a floor and a sub floor that may have been damaged as well as a result of animals being allowed loose in this room."
Even if it means putting in a new floor and sub floor, Berghorn says the end result will be well worth the effort.

"You have to walk into these places with an open mind and a vision," says Berghorn. "You really have to see what it's going to be a year or two from now and just keep working toward that because the reason these homes sit is too many people walk in, they see the room that's been destroyed by the dogs and say this is too much."

Joan Nelson directs the Allen Neighborhood Center. She didn't want the houses demolished because they're on a busy commercial corridor.

"Every time a house goes down on a corridor like East Kalamazoo Street, it exposes the next house in to noise and traffic and pollutants," says Nelson. "Over a period of time, there's this very gradual erosion of the residential area."

Nelson says the Center will use this project to inspire do-it-yourselfers to restore other houses on the East Side.

"We have these wonderful old houses in this neighborhood," she says. "Many have been on the rental market for a couple of decades and some, not all, but some have really suffered from that fact, and we have a window here to come in and do serious restoration of these wonderful old houses with their 200, 300-year-old wood before it's too late, and so we're really interested in promoting restoration."

Restoring these houses also gives LCC students an opportunity to learn new skills in a real-world environment, and perhaps more important, George Berghorn says, a chance to connect with the community.

"I know that not every student, probably not even the majority of students we have are from the east side of Lansing, but I think there's a message in there for them," says Berghorn. "Going to school is more than just coming in, sitting in a class and taking an exam. There's a whole lot more that's expected of you as part of society once your education is complete."

For anyone interested in seeing these houses, the Allen Neighborhood Center will hold the first public tour of the Restoration Works project on February 24 from 4:00 to 7:00 PM.

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