At work on a Habitat milestone in Bayport

  • Article by: Allie Shah
  • Star Tribune
  • October 15, 2007 - 10:17 PM

Power drills buzzed and hammers pounded, echoing in an otherwise quiet neighborhood in Bayport on Monday morning.

"That's good. It means they're working," said Tom Silva, his eyes twinkling. Silva, a general contractor and host of the popular "This Old House" home improvement show on PBS, came to Bayport to lend a hand to employees from Andersen Corp. More than two dozen employees volunteered to help build a house for Habitat for Humanity, and they're helping the company reach a milestone.

The house, on Maine Street just yards from Andersen's headquarters, is the final house being built since 2003, when the company set a goal to build 100 affordable houses in five years to mark the company's centennial.

Of the 100 houses, 70 are in the Twin Cities area and in western Wisconsin. The rest are scattered in other states, including Arizona, Virginia and Louisiana. After Hurricane Katrina hit, the company and Habitat for Humanity shipped some kit homes down the Mississippi River to New Orleans.

Like the other houses built by Andersen volunteers, the Bayport house is on an accelerated construction schedule.

Monday was the first day of work and within hours, the house began to take shape. It's scheduled to be finished in five weeks, said Rhonda Thorson, the Habitat for Humanity site supervisor.

When it's done, it will have 1,672 square feet of living space including four bedrooms, one and three-quarters bathrooms and a front porch.

Habitat will work to identify a family in need and match the family with the house before it's completed. As with all Habitat dwellings, the receiving families must spend between 300 and 500 hours of "sweat equity" working on their house, Thorson said.

On Monday morning, a line of volunteers lifted a plywood wall off the ground and nailed it into the ground and into the house frame. Then they cheered.

The 100-house initiative has served Andersen as much as it has the community, said Jim Humphrey, chief executive officer of Andersen Corp. The company, known for its windows and patio doors, donated some of its own products for the Habitat houses.

"It's been a great way of getting our people involved," he said. "They've learned about the product and the community."

A legacy for builder

David Jonk, who operates a forklift for Andersen, wanted to work on this particular house because the land has sentimental value to him: It's where his grandmother and grandfather once lived.

He remembers spending summers at their house, running around with his siblings in the back yard while his grandfather barbecued for everyone. "I have many, many good memories here," he said, staring through safety glasses at the wooden frame of the new house.

His grandfather, Orville Trenda, who worked for Andersen and believed in helping others, would be pleased to see what's happening on the land now, Jonk said.

"This is right up his alley," Jonk said.

For Silva, working on the project was rewarding, too.

"It's been a lot of work, a lot of fun," said Silva, who said he's visited Bayport before. Known for saying that every house project he works on is unique, Silva was asked what stood out about this one. "This is a very well-structured development," he said, noting that structure is one of the most important elements of a building.

He took measurements where the wall had been raised and around the house frame to make sure everything was square and level. It was.

"Everything's put together," said Silva, who has been doing "This Old House" for more than 20 years.

Of his luck being chosen for the show, he shrugged and said: "I was basically in the right place at the right time. I'm a contractor that they happened to follow."

The fact that real people -- people who have the skills to do the work -- are doing the projects in real time has helped make the show a trusted information source, Silva suggested.

"There's no script," he said. "If you gave me a script, I wouldn't know what to do with it. I know sawdust."

Allie Shah • 651-298-1550

Allie Shah •

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