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Wednesday, January 18,2012

Lookin' good

530 Pacific Ave. gets its big makeover

by Lawrence Cosentino
(Part of an occasional series on one house being saved by the Ingham County Land Bank.)

Usually, it’s a bad sign when a house makes noise, but the modest two-story home at 530 Pacific Ave. in south Lansing can be forgiven for squealing. It’s just had a spiffy three-week makeover, courtesy of the Ingham County Land Bank, that would do Oprah proud.

With the help of unusually warm and dry winter weather, workers fitted the neglected house with a new porch, new roof, new vinyl siding and a full set of energy-efficient, maintenance-free windows. Eeee!

Getting its groove back after years of neglect is a big deal for an old house, but it’s business as usual for the Land Bank, which is fighting the tide of tax and mortgage foreclosures in Lansing with about 40 renovations now under way in various parts of town.

The land bank bought the 1925 house in July for $6,371 in back taxes owed by the absent owner. The renovation is expected to cost about $50,000. It’s a classic Land Bank project — a bad tooth in a healthy mouth.

“It’s a nice neighborhood,” land bank renovation specialist Bruce Kehren said. “All the houses around it are owner-occupied and well-kept.”

Kehren has worked on over 60 land bank properties, from “major” renovations like 530 Pacific to one-day paint-and-carpet jobs. “We’re going to try to make the neighbors love us when we’re done,” he said.

On Jan. 5, Tom Horvath of Horvath Construction in St. Johns had a crew of two putting up vinyl siding. 

They had already been on the job two weeks.

It was Horvath’s first job for the land bank.

“It’s an excellent time to get the job, for sure,” he said. “Work is slow.”

Kehren figures that more than 30 contractors will tromp through, over and around the house by the time the renovation is over in April, including five roofers, three men working on the exterior shell, a plumber, an electrical contractor, four painters, a carpenter, a cabinet specialist, a sewer specialist and a mysterious figure named “Little Tony.”

Horvath, a laconic sort, had one word for the house’s condition: “old.” The first order of business was the sagging front porch, which had to be torn off and rebuilt. “It was put together old school,” Horvath said. Despite what we kept on hearing from Andy Rooney, old school isn’t always a good thing. At most land bank renovations, today’s construction practices bump into the short cuts and technical limitations of grandpa’s time. The porch supports at 530 Pacific didn’t go beneath the frost line (43 inches), as mandated now, and the wooden joists lacked the metal brackets that would have kept them in place. Result: a tiny Titanic of a porch. “The frost could just heave it up and down,” Horvath said.

Next came a new roof, with proper ventilation, followed by vinyl siding and new windows, all standard land bank renovation checkpoints. 

Over the holidays, neighbors stopped by to cheer the work on. One man walked across the street and plastered a jolly Santa Claus on the portable toilet in the front yard.

This week, work begins on the house’s trashed interior.

Heaps of belongings left in the house are being sorted. The upright piano in the living room found a home in a local day care center — “not as a toy, but for kids to practice on,” Kehren cautioned. Usable furniture, coats and other stuff will be trucked to St. Vincent de Paul.

Interior work was set to begin in earnest this week. A new furnace with 95 percent efficiency and new ductwork are already in place. After last fall’s heavy rains, water collected in the basement, so a concrete specialist will install a waterproofing system, including a sump crock.

Then the dust will really start flying, as the kitchen is gutted and rebuilt to modern standards. The sink faces a wall now, but will face the window when work is done. But that’s another makeover story. Tune in a couple of weeks from now.

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