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Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016

CORE commitment: Rebuilding community one house at a time

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Charles Francis of CORE, Calico Rock Organization for Revitalization Efforts, stands in the living room of a 77 year old house the group is renovating on West First Street and plans to sell at cost. CORE hopes to save other long vacant and deteriorated homes, on the belief giving new life to the homes will help stabilize neighborhoods and address a shortage of renovated, affordable homes in Calico Rock. Photo by Richard Irby [Order this photo]
The front yard at 104 West First Street in Calico Rock is a mess.

The yard itself is a mudhole. There is a pile of broken up concrete at the front, an old toilet and a stack of boards sit near the front porch and the side yard is covered with trash and debris.

But a crisp white sign with blue letters announces better times are ahead for the long neglected house.

"Rehabilitation Project," the sign announces. "A joint venture of Calico Rock Organization for Revitalization Efforts (CORE) and Arkansas Department of Correction North Central Unit."

"You think this is bad, you should have seen this place before we started," Charles Francis, a member of CORE, said laughing.

The 25 member citizens group, which was formed in 2007 to try to spruce up Calico Rock's historic Main Street, has for the first time taken on a project to save an abandoned house.

"This place was tied up in an estate and had been vacant for at least 10 years," said Francis, who had a great view of the eyesore, since his business, the White River Current newspaper, is across the street, and he lives next door in another old house he restored.

"We (he and co-publisher Rich Fischer) were members of CORE, and got the idea that the organization might be able to buy the house and renovate and sell it," Francis explained.

The goal was, as the sign out front says, "Saving our community one house at a time."

CORE members supported the idea, the First National Bank of Izard County joined in with a line of credit and the North Central Unit state prison agreed to supply inmates to do the work.

"We began work last October by removing four layers of shingles, repairing rotted roof boards and putting on a new metal roof," Francis remembered.

Inside, sagging wood ceilings had to be repaired after years of water damage, and the floor had to be jacked up so new floor joists and subflooring could be put in.

"We also had to shore up the left corner of the porch, which had cracked away," Rich Fischer added. "It was threatening to pull the whole porch away from the house."

After removing the damaged area and pouring new concrete, the porch has been stabilized.

On a recent morning, several inmates of the North Central Unit were busy cutting boards and finishing some plumbing work in the new bathroom.

"This project could not have been done without the help of the prison," Francis said. "Inmates have done hundreds of hours of work, and all we have had to do is help supervise them and provide lunch."

With tools, extension cords and materials scattered around, it looks like there is still lots to do, but there are high hopes the project will be completed by the end of March.

"Thermopane windows have been installed, all the plumbing and wiring has been replaced and we're ready to install the heating and air conditioning system" Francis said.

Kitchen cabinets are ready to hang and, if the weather cooperates, the exterior is ready for a new coat of white paint.

Francis is proud of how the home has been reconfigured. The original 1935 house had three small bedrooms and no closets. A new floor plan has created a two bedroom house with closets, and an area for a washer and dryer.

"We are now seeing the end product, and it's a lot more gratifying," Fischer said. "For the longest time, it didn't seem like we were getting anywhere. Every time we looked at something, we found a problem."

One complication down the home stretch is the loss of the inmate who had the most skills, and led the work crew.

"He was a contractor in real life," Fischer said, "and he has been transferred to a county jail, where he is going to be housed and work. We're happy for him, but we are having to get advice and help from local construction specialists to finish up here."

CORE began the project with a $30,000 line of credit. By the time it is finished, the total cost will be around $50,000, and the house will be sold at cost.

Has the undertaking been worth the time and trouble?

"Anything worth doing takes effort," Fischer said, "but, by renovating this house, we will help stabilize this neighborhood and eliminate a safety hazard. Because of the low price, we will be putting a nice house in the hands of a family who probably couldn't afford to buy a house otherwise."

Francis believes the work on the CORE house has already produced a positive benefit. "The house next door, which was in the same estate, has sold since we started. People are cleaning up and updating that house and are going to live there," Francis said.

With one renovation under its belt, Fischer believes the next project would go a lot smoother, if CORE does another house.

"Quality Flooring in Melbourne provided flooring to us at cost and that was a big help," Fischer said. "I think we can cut costs in the future by seeking discounts from other suppliers."

"If folks see what we've done with this eyesore, maybe someone will donate the next house to us," Francis added. "There are a lot of houses in Calico Rock that are just rotting away, that we could save. There are three more on this street alone."

Before CORE looks to the future, however, there are lot of details to be finished at 104 West First Street.

"A couple of folks have already inquired about buying the house. My happiest day is going to be when we hand the keys over to the people who buy it," Francis said. "I think they are really going to enjoy this house."

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