Habitat home taking time

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Gary Frey has stopped answering people when they ask him when the Habitat for Humanity duplex in West End Village will be done. He hears the question at least once a day, and when he first took the job as the project manager for the house, he would smile and say, "December."

But December came and went, and people continued to ask the question. Now, Frey just shrugs and keeps working.

Habitat houses are built by volunteers, but the last time Frey had help from a team of volunteers, they were wearing shorts.

Every once in a while, a retired couple or individual will show up on site and pound a few nails, but Frey has learned not to expect anyone.

"The volunteer pool is so small in Steamboat," said Laura Frey, Gary's wife and the architect for the project. "So many people are struggling to make ends meet, they don't have time to come work on someone else's house.

"They are having their own affordable housing problem."

Ellen Clare, 35, found out she had been chosen as a recipient for a Habitat for Humanity home on Nov. 6, 2001. A lot has happened since then, and a lot has not happened.

At the time she was accepted, Clare was a single mother of two children. Since then, her children have gotten three years older, and she met and married Isaac Slobodnik.

During the past three years, Clare has attended fund-raisers for her home, and she applauded during the groundbreaking ceremony in June 2003.

Her boss, architect Laura Frey, designed the duplex where she would live and donated those designs to the Habitat project.

The house has gone up board by board, using donated or discounted labor. But people who watched the community's first Habitat house completed in four months are starting to wonder why this second project isn't complete.

The first setback came in December 2003 when the original project manager, Scott MacDonald, resigned, and a month passed before Gary Frey came on board. On his first day of work, the house was 75 percent framed, he said.

As the project manager, he is the only paid employee of Routt County Habitat for Humanity.

But the main reason this project has taken almost two years, said Routt County Habitat for Humanity president Larry Oman, is a lack of volunteers.

The first Habitat house, built in 2001, was put together by 330 volunteers, many of them from church groups who returned week after week. The volunteer effort was spearheaded by a volunteer coordinator, who volunteered herself and coordinated dates, tasks and willing workers with the project foreman.

The duplex going up in West End Village has no such volunteer coordinator, and the unpaid board members and elected officials for Routt County Habitat have not had the time to coordinate volunteers themselves. The board is busy with another crisis -- trying to raise the money needed to begin construction on a second duplex to be built in an adjacent lot in West End Village.

The duplex now under construction has two stories with three bedrooms and 1.75 bathrooms in each unit, which is a lot of walls to put up, a lot of plumbing to install and two kitchens full of countertops and tile, Gary Frey said. It's a lot of work for one person.

Stefka Fanchi, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Colorado, the umbrella organization that supports 29 affiliate programs throughout the state, said it's not unusual for a Habitat house to take years because of the difficulty in raising funds and finding volunteers.

Despite the long wait, the two families who are scheduled to move into the duplex -- Clare's family for one side and the Copeland family on the other side -- are not complaining.

Through Habitat, they were able to buy their homes for an interest-free $120,000 and 350 sweat-equity hours.

"This is the only way I could afford a house in Steamboat," Jessica Copeland, 21, said.

Both families have put in their hours already, but they are continuing to work on the duplex until it is finished.

Clare, who works as a draftsperson for architect Laura Frey, had logged her hours before the construction even started. She drew up the plans and arranged all the permits.

"I might be frustrated if I didn't know anything about the construction business," Clare said.

If the Habitat duplex were a typical construction project with a paid crew, Gary Frey estimates it would be done in three weeks, excluding the work that needs to be done to the outside of the house. But this is not a typical construction project.

When you ask him when it will be done, he just shrugs and turns back to his work.

-- To reach Autumn Phillips call 871-4210

or e-mail aphillips@steamboatpilot.com

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