Architecture students help revitalize Muncie homes

In a community with 259 houses tagged for demolition, one organization is determined to rehabilitate homes in Muncie and make them environmentally friendly at the same time.

Associate architecture professor Jonathan Spodek and Muncie historical preservation officer Bill Morgan cofounded the group ecoREHAB in Summer 2008, and started rehabbing their first home in Fall 2009.

Spodek said being passed over for a neighborhood stabilization grant in Fall 2008 encouraged them to pursue the project more aggressively.

"We didn't get any of that money, but it helped spark a desire to get started," he said. "We applied for a provost immersive learning grant in Summer 2009, and momentum carried us to where we are now."

Spodek has been heading an immersive learning project to rehab a house at 601 E. Washington St. since Fall 2009. Fall Semester was spent planning how to revitalize the house. During Spring Semester, students will start active rehabilitation.

While Morgan's memory is hazy, Spodek said he remembers the day he suggested the name ecoREHAB, to suggest "ecological rehabilitation," while the two cofounders sat on the patio at MT Cup two summers ago.

Morgan said the idea for ecoREHAB was hatched during a series of meetings for the historical development corporation. Spodek said the notoriety of abandoned houses also influenced their brainstorming process.

"There's a mind set that if I'm going to get a nice and energy-efficient house, I have to get a new house," Spodek said. "I think that's a misconception."

ecoREHAB's methodology is to buy old abandoned homes in Muncie, revitalize them making environmentally-friendly provisions and sell them to low- or middle-income families in the community. When determining a suitable family for such homes, Spodek said the group will be working with agencies in Muncie, which specialize in assisting home buyers with financing and homeowner education programs.

Morgan said he doesn't expect they'll make much of a profit, but he'll be satisfied to have provided housing to families who need it.

"Financially, we might lose," he said. "But social- and environment-wise, we're in the black."

EcoREHAB is following a five-year business plan, Spodek said, and he believes it will remain financially stable for at least that period of time.

"We're looking for funding from a variety of different sources," he said. "Money from sale of homes and grants outside the city will also help. I'm comfortable we can keep going at capacity."

Spodek said ecoREHAB's work is similar to that of the East Central Reinvestment Corporation, which worked on rehabilitation projects in the same area as ecoREHAB's current project.

"People say our group is like ECRC, and it's replacing it, but really it's very different," he said. "ECRC did a lot of renting. They were around for a long time and they did a lot of good for the community."

ECRC is no longer active. Morgan said its sole reliance on funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is what led to its demise.

"When you put all your eggs in one basket, you get in trouble," he said.

Morgan said it can be difficult to persuade people in Muncie that sustainable living and efficient heating can take place in historic homes.

EcoREHAB used an $85,000 grant from the city's Community Development Block Grant for its first project at 601 E. Washington St. Housing and Urban Development funds will be used to finance the rehab. About a dozen students will facilitate the project through an immersive learning opportunity led by Spodek.

Ball State University student Natasha Sieracki described the site as cold and dirty, but exactly what she expected.

"As an architecture major, we design stuff all the time, but we never get to put it into practice," she said. "The first few days, we made checklists and started taking out old carpet. I was hoping it would be hands on, and it was."

Spodek said the house has been abandoned for nearly 15 years. It was once a one-family home, but it was turned into three apartments. He and his students plan to bring it back to a single-family home.

"In the first few weeks, we'll be pulling things out that we don't need, like duct work," he said. "But we're conscious of where it goes. We reuse and recycle pieces."

Spodek hopes the project will be completed by the end of Spring Semester or a few weeks into summer. He said there will be a larger learning curve because students will have to be taught how to do certain things.

Heather Williams, assistant administrator of the Unsafe Building Hearing Authority, said finding ecologically-friendly housing is a city-wide initiative.

"Everyone involved is familiar with blight and abandonment problems," she said. "As far as rehabbing housing, Habitat for Humanity is working on this. They're making a difference in one area of town. People need to know that there are models you can follow to make them energy-efficient, and that's what ecoREHAB is doing."

How ecoREHAB is making their first house more eco-friendly:
Turning unpainted wood into wood pellets for heating
Reducing water usage
Clustering hot water filters in one area of the house
Using low-flow water fixtures
Using no volatile organic compound-containing paints
Using formaldehyde-free materials

  • For more information, check out jspodek.iweb.bsu.edu/ecoREHAB
  • There are 259 houses tagged for demolition by the Unsafe Building Hearing Committee
  • 19 houses are either foreclosed or in the process of being foreclosed since ECRC ceased operation

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