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Wis. cabinet-maker goes 'old school'

  • Article by: BOB DOHR
  • Associated Press
  • January 27, 2014 - 12:05 AM

ELDERON, Wis. — When it came to finding a new location for his custom cabinetry business, Scott Dombeck decided to go old school.

As in his old school.

So today, the 41-year-old is operating Dombeck Custom Cabinets out of the former Elderon Elementary School, the same building where he attended kindergarten.

The story starts about a year ago, when Dombeck was looking to expand his business. He started talking with a friend of his in the industry, Kyle Yenter, who was working for another cabinet company whose days were numbered.

"We started talking to see what the potential was of maybe rising from those failures and help my business grow, which at the time was really on its way up," Dombeck said. "That's when we started talking with the village to see what the feasibility of this project was."

Elderon Village President Jim Schwalbach said the 1960s-era school had been vacant for nearly four years while the village decided what to do with it. Schwalbach said senior housing was discussed and rejected before the village started thinking about light manufacturing.

"Lo and behold, Scott came along and said he needs a place," Schwalbach told Daily Herald Media (http://wdhne.ws/19HVL3X ). "The numbers just fell in one, two, three."

Schwalbach said with the help of Mary Kluz of the Marathon County University of Wisconsin-Extension, the village applied for and received a Rural Business Enterprise Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"That was a big part of what helped fund the buildout, the initial upgrade cost that the village was willing to invest into this," Dombeck said of the $84,000 grant. "Once that got approved it really became a no-brainer for everybody involved that this was a win-win for the community, for the business, and for bringing an old school back online."

Dombeck said construction started in July and by late September enough equipment had been moved in to start operating out of the new location.

Some of the initial projects included upgrading the heating system, repairing the roof and adding an overhead door to the gymnasium.

On one end of the building is the gym where the raw product comes in, the classrooms off the main corridor serve as manufacturing pods — fabrication, assembly and finishing — and the other end of the old school is where finished products are staged and eventually shipped out.

Dombeck said the total cost of conversion will run around $200,000 but that doesn't include the sweat equity he and his nine employees are putting in.

"Our first job is produce cabinets and make happy customers and make a little money to pay the bills, and when I have a little slack time I got skilled guys that can paint a wall or do some insulating or put some drywall up," he said.

Dombeck said because Elderon is a small town and many attended the former elementary school, the project has drawn quite a bit of interest.

"Literally, there's been thousands of students that have gone through the building that are now homeowners and family people," Dombeck said. "Whether they need our services or not, they are very inquisitive as to what's happening here."

Dombeck said the community will have the chance to see the facility during a grand opening and open house in April.

Schwalbach, a lifelong Elderon resident, said the village is ecstatic to keep a business in town and to find a use for an empty building.

"Beautiful, almost like a dream come true," Schwalbach said. "It's putting the finishing touches on what we had envisioned — to do something major with this building."

An AP Member Exchange Feature shared by Daily Herald Media

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