Student-built housing adds value in North St. Paul

Former students John Corazzo (Roseville), Dalton Suedkamp (Stillwater), and Nick Swanson (Irondale) toured the 916 House that they had worked on.
Former students John Corazzo (Roseville), Dalton Suedkamp (Stillwater), and Nick Swanson (Irondale) toured the 916 House that they had worked on. (Linda Baumeister/Review)
The student-built house on 15th Ave. in North St. Paul was showcased in an open house Nov. 26. It was a collaborative project between the City of North St. Paul, Northeast Metro 916 Career & Tech Center, St. Paul College’s Cabinet Making Program, and Century College’s Interior Design Program.
The student-built house on 15th Ave. in North St. Paul was showcased in an open house Nov. 26. It was a collaborative project between the City of North St. Paul, Northeast Metro 916 Career & Tech Center, St. Paul College’s Cabinet Making Program, and Century College’s Interior Design Program. (Linda Baumeister/Review)
A preview of the kitchen and dining room of the 916 CTC Construction Occupations house with a theme of lighter woodwork, gray walls, and brown tile and countertops.
A preview of the kitchen and dining room of the 916 CTC Construction Occupations house with a theme of lighter woodwork, gray walls, and brown tile and countertops. (Linda Baumeister/Review)
The master bath with shower is one of two bathrooms, both with double sinks and tile floors. The main bath has a bathtub.
The master bath with shower is one of two bathrooms, both with double sinks and tile floors. The main bath has a bathtub. (Linda Baumeister/Review)
The Google “Street View” car happened to roll by 2001-3 Sixth Street just after the standoff incident in September 2012, capturing everything from the boarded-up windows to the police tape.
UP NEXT... The Google “Street View” car happened to roll by 2001-3 Sixth Street just after the standoff incident in September 2012, capturing everything from the boarded-up windows to the police tape. (Google Street View)
The structure was encircled with police tape and warning signs following tear-gas release indoors.
The structure was encircled with police tape and warning signs following tear-gas release indoors. (Linda Baumeister/Review)

Longtime North St. Paul residents Nate and Liatra Tepe are busy settling into their new home at 2370 15th Ave. with their three children.

When they talk about the house, which is across the street from Richardson Elementary, they highlight the big kitchen, the proximity to a school and nearby park for their children, all of whom are under age 6, the natural lighting and the front porch.

The fact that their new home was constructed and designed by high school students, with the help of their instructors, made the purchase all the more memorable for them.

“We were impressed with everything,” Nate Tepe said. “The craftsmanship is good.”

Tom Spehn, instructor of the Northeast Metro 916 Construction Occupation Program, believes learning how to build the foundation of a house is key to mastering the trade.

So when North St. Paul city officials asked him to partner in 2008 to reconstruct foreclosed residential properties with his high school students, Spehn accepted the challenge.

With five housing projects completed, Mayor Mike Kuehn estimates these upgrades have added about $1.3 million in new housing value to the community.

“I think it helps keep stability in the neighborhoods,” said Mayor Kuehn, explaining that many residents near these new homes feel their property values are being protected through such efforts.

This autumn the Tepes purchased the students’ latest project -- the two-story home on 15th Avenue -- for $250,008. It sold for just $8 over the minimum bid the city set.

While an independent appraiser valued the home at $287,000, making quality homes affordable remains one of the city’s top concerns.

“The purpose of the program certainly was to bring young families into the community,” said Kuehn, adding that educating high school students is the other main benefit of the partnership with District 916.

“We’re trying to give students a platform to learn if (home construction) is a career they’re interested in.”

Hours of planning before hammering begins

North St. Paul starts the process by locating a home that is deemed beyond repair, negotiating with the mortgage company and purchasing the property.

Once the city takes care of demolition and cleanup, Spehn and his students get to work, aiming to complete the construction project by the end of the school year.

Since these new homes are being constructed in older neighborhoods, the builders are careful to pay special attention to design.

An earlier project, on a lakefront property, raised some initial criticism that the home didn’t blend well with neighboring houses. The team has kept that community feedback in mind when planning future projects.

“We learned along the way that since we are building this in the community, we need to look at fitting into the neighborhood,” said Spehn.

Of course, not every home will be a perfect match, especially when adjacent houses date back to the 1950s, and there were more relaxed building codes and smaller lot sizes.

Still, the students and their teachers take a number of things into consideration, such as landscaping, color, size, functionality and privacy. All five completed projects also exceed new 2015 energy code requirements.

With construction underway, the site turns into a collaborative training ground for others as well. Interior design students from Century College work onsite to select paint colors, molding profiles and other interior design elements.

Students from St. Paul College build custom cabinets for the home.

When the project reaches completion, students are invited to attend the open house to showcase their work. They have the opportunity to walk away with college credits and a better understanding of the construction trades.

Sale price exceeds investment

In the past, the city would sell the student-built houses for prices that just covered the amount invested in them.

But the high appraisal on the 15th Avenue house prompted city officials to reevaluate how they priced the houses. They realized they could see a profit on the projects and brainstormed new initiatives for money generated from future sales.

Kuehn expressed an interest in using some of the revenues to create things like an exterior home improvement loan, or a small grant program for seniors to modify their homes to be able to stay in them longer.

City manager Jason Ziemer explained that the city will continue to get appraisals on completed homes, but the North St. Paul Housing and Redevelopment Authority is ultimately responsible for setting the sale price. So if the HRA feels the appraisal came in too high, it may set a price more in line with the value of surrounding homes.

“Whether we break even, or we make money on it, the goal is to make sure these student-built housing projects continue in the future,” he said.

Spehn would like to see a portion of the profits go back to the students, in the form of scholarships. He said the city is open to discussing possibilities.

Sharing another of his ideas, he said, “I’d love to build a home for a returning vet in the city of North St. Paul and have the city donate the lot.”

The impact does not stop there. Both city officials and instructors say these projects seem to instill a new sense of pride in residential areas that were once burdened by a neglected home.

“When we’ve done these new homes, it seems to prompt neighbors in the neighborhood to do improvements on their own home,” said Scott Duddeck, the North St. Paul public works director.

First remodeling project

Project participants are hoping to bring this positive momentum to their current construction site at 2001/2003 Sixth St.

The property, located across from Webster Elementary School, was boarded up and foreclosed after a SWAT team was called in to evacuate a prior resident and used teargas in one of the units.

The city purchased the duplex from the mortgage company for $67,035 and split the large lot.

Students are now undertaking the program’s first remodeling project, transforming the duplex into a single-family home.

Ziemer explained that the building was structurally sound and “worth saving,” but the two rental units were undersized by today’s standards. He said the structure was more feasible as a single-family home than a duplex.

Construction on the empty lot will begin next year with a new group of high school students.

Erin Hinrichs can be reached at ehinrichs@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7814.


UP NEXT...

Holly Wenzel
Review staff

Most the properties purchased for the 916 construction program are acquired because they’re in foreclosure or the homes on them have been declared structurally unsound.

However, the string of events leading up to North St. Paul’s acquisition of the duplex at 2001-03 Sixth Street is a little more dramatic -- and involved a lot more squad cars.

On the afternoon of Sept. 5, 2012, North St. Paul police were called to the home, located across Sixth Street from Webster Elementary School, to deal with a man who had been calling 911 to complain about police. They found the first floor cluttered and smelling “like rotten garbage,” which the resident attributed to the electricity having been shut off and food still in the fridge. In the lower level of the house, they detected a strong chemical odor, “something like formaldehyde.”

Officers and a county mental health worker they’d summoned determined they would send the resident, 62-year-old Terry Walbridge, to Regions Hospital for evaluation. They were standing with him outside the house when, according to police reports, he suddenly “began to look like he was going to pass out.”

However, “He then quickly recovered and entered his home and locked the door.”

Walbridge barricaded the door and told officers trying to talk him out “I have a torch, and if you take one more step this place will blow.”

Believable threats

According to the police report, Walbridge had a previous felony conviction for harboring explosives, from a 1997 case in which he threatened to “blow up” Eden Prairie’s city hall building. Police stopped him for driving erratically in Stillwater and during a routine patdown for weapons found he was carrying a fragmentation bomb with “Cop Killer” written on it. Later, in his Little Canada home they found two pipe bombs, a working grenade, 22 canisters of gunpowder and three rolls of fuse. He was sentenced to 14 months’ imprisonment and three years of supervised release.

With that record, plus the “chemical smell” in the home, North St. Paul called for backup.

Then ensued a nine-hour police standoff involving North St. Paul and Maplewood police and fire units, the St. Paul Bomb Squad and the East Metro SWAT team. Sixth Street residents were evacuated from their homes from East Seventh Avenue south to Cowern Place. Finally, at 11:45 p.m. SWAT teams breached the house and were able to apprehend Walbridge and take him to Regions.

He was released from the hospital Sept. 12, 2012 on “a stayed warrant of commitment.”

Days later, police were called to the Holiday convenience station at 2255 South Avenue. The clerk who called 911 at about 9 p.m. Sept. 17 said a man buying a money order from her had told her “if he was a more violent person he would go down to the North St. Paul Police Department, chop off all their heads, blow the police department up and then leave the country.”

Responding North St. Paul officers reported finding Walbridge, and while talking to him observed a grenade sitting in the center console of his vehicle, which was parked in the Holiday lot.

The area was cordoned off and evacuated and the bomb squad, and backup police and fire personnel were called. The object was later determined to be a non-working “training grenade.”

Walbridge was taken to Regions again. In court, charges were dismissed at sentencing in the Holiday incident and he was given a 15-month stayed sentence and five years probation “provided he followed recommendations of a supervising physician,” according to the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office.

Home sat untouched

The home, meanwhile, had had flash-bang devices and tear gas released inside, and windows and doors broken out. Since then, it has fallen into foreclosure and remained unoccupied and boarded up, at a very visible location along North St. Paul’s “main street” and across from the school.

After the home was foreclosed on, the city purchased the duplex from the mortgage company for $67,035 and split the large lot. For 2014 taxes, the property had been valued by Ramsey County at $290,000, with $161,000 worth of land and $129,000 for the structure. The structure, built in 1983, encompasses 2,224 square feet.

However, the basic structure of the building is sound, and, City Manager Jason Ziemer says, “worth saving,” making this the student program’s first remodeling project.

In it, they’ll be transforming the duplex into a single-family home.

Ziemer explains that the two rental units were undersized by today’s standards, and the house will be more marketable as a single-family home than a duplex.

Construction on the adjoining split lot will begin next year with a new group of high school students.

Holly Wenzel can be reached at review@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7817.

 

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