Diary of a Blitz Build
Written by Barbara Weiher of Carmel Builders
In May 2007, one of 10 Thrivent Builds Homes projects was built in just one week in Milwaukee, Wis. Carmel Builders was largely responsible for helping to organize the "blitz build" home project. This diary reflects the progress of that home each day.
It's Friday at Carmel Builders, Inc. home office in Menomonee Falls. Enthusiastic, excited and a wee bit nervous, we anticipate the start of the Thrivent Builds with Habitat for Humanity Blitz Build home in Milwaukee's Harambee neighborhood next Monday, May 14th.
Having participated in our first Blitz Build last year we know what to expect; five long days of intensely coordinated construction. Tom Weiher, president of Carmel Builders, Inc. has spent long hours developing the 11"x 17" spreadsheet of the schedule - broken down into 15 minute increments from 7 a.m. to 12 a.m. each day. Some days we expect as many as 50 workers on the build site at once.
The results make the effort all worthwhile and you wouldn't hear Tom complain for a minute. After five days, the forlorn empty lot will have a lovely new dwelling on it...the new home of Gloria and Bashamba Williams and their three children.
We all know it is a privilege to be part of a project like this! We are counting on a little help from Above to provide good weather!
A Great First Day
Our prayers for good weather have been answered! It's a glorious morning in the Harambee neighborhood. By 6:00 a.m. 6th street is already buzzing with activity. In the space of one city block, four homes are going up. All of them are starting today, but only one, the home Carmel Builders is building, will be completely finished by the end of the week. Two huge trucks, one with a flatbed and the other with a crane, maneuver into place, preparing to begin. By 10 a.m. the framing of the first floor is nearly complete and the ramp on the rear of the home is well underway. Curious neighbors venture out to see what all the commotion is about!
The noon hour ushers in a break in the intense pace. Lunch is served, though no work stops at the blitz home; the crew eats lunch in shifts. With more that 40 workers that's quite a few shifts! Thrivent Financial and Habitat have organized an opening rally—with the arrival of Milwaukee dignitaries, the Klements Sausage Guys and Bernie Brewer the air is filled with a feeling of festivity. Plenty of photo ops here as a wall for another Habitat home is raised by a large group representing the myriad organizations that have helped make this build possible.
By 12:30 the Blitz home's 2nd floor framing is nearly finished. Rough electric and plumbing has begun. No rain gives us confidence that we will reach our goal for day one of the blitz; frame, side and roof the home we are building; safely protecting it from the elements. How inspiring it is to see what happens when people pull together for a common good!
It's 9:00 am at the Blitz Build site and I am amazed to see how much progress has been made since yesterday. Thanks to McGuire Builders the roof is entirely shingled. The framing passed inspection so the crew from Callen Contruction has aready installed nearly half the siding; they expect to finish siding and trim today. The William's home is truly taking shape!
Yesterday I met Gloria and Bashamba Williams and felt an immediate connection with them. Today, we greet each other with a hug! Their enthusiasm is contagious as they energetically help out in any way they can.
Today's schedule includes having the electric, HVAC and plumbing completely roughed-in by 11:30 and ready for inspection. With the efficient crews from Horsch & Miller Plumbing and HVAC and Triple T Electric, we expect them to be finished ahead of schedule! The next three hours are slated for insulation. The insulation must be in so that dry wall can be loaded, hung and finished by the end of the day; a huge undertaking. Drywall must be finished in order to prime and paint tomorrow. Every step hinges on the step before.
The ease with which we are moving from one phase of the build to another is awesome. I, for one, am impressed. After months of hard work and planning, I'm happy to see Carmel Builders, Inc. president (and my husband), Tom Weiher, busy but relaxed – confident all is well. The forecast threatens rain, but there's no chance of dampening spirits!
Rain Won't Stop Us
The rains came but they did not dampen spirits. The "can-do" attitude prevailed. To be honest, though, it did create some havoc. So, like Paul Harvey, I'll tell you The Rest of the Story. These were no light showers; it poured for hours. The yard turned into a mud hole and trucks had a hard time getting in and out. Some got stuck and needed help. Loading drywall was challenging and messy. Good thing President, Tom, had the foresight to order fans and high powered heaters, or we would have had a lot more to worry about. Before any painting is done, its imperative drywall texture is entirely dry, and interior painting was scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. the next morning! With the storms, WE Energies was overwhelmed with emergency calls and unable to install electric service as anticipated. Terry from Triple T to the rescue! Terry managed to get us temporary power to run the fans and heaters necessary to dry the walls.
By 7 a.m. this morning our crews were hard at damage control; laying pallets in the yard, power washing the drive and front walk and vacuuming the interior. Painting began at 8 a.m. right on time.
I arrive on site at about noon. Had I not known of the troubles, I would have had no idea. I am greeted by smiles. Marin, from Sherwin Williams is sitting crossed legged applying the finishing touches of paint to the front porch. I ask Bashamba and Gloria to move into the photo. Bashamba tells me he has never seen so many happy workers. He is impressed with the joy-filled atmosphere that fills the air. Gloria is ecstatic about her lovely new home.
The work of professionals is evident with the smooth, finished walls; they are perfect. Soon, flooring and interior doors and millwork will be delivered and bathroom vanities will be installed. After the last two 15 hour days, mercifully this day will end about 5 o'clock.
Photos taken, I head back to the office reflecting on how grateful I am to be a part of this.
Nearing the End
It's a beautiful day at the Blitz Build site on 6th street in spite of more rain last night. The bright sun clearly reflects temperaments - everyone is beaming! I am astonished as I stand before a home that appears to be nearly finished from the outside. I find it hard to imagine that only a foundation was here Monday morning - four short days ago!
The able bodied Turfmasters Landscaping crew applies muscle power to grading, raking and leveling the yard. As soon as the topsoil is delivered, they will spread it and prepare the yard for landscaping tomorrow. Off the back of the home, railings are being installed on the safe, strong ramp designed for the William's 7 year old disabled son, Dakarai.
In spite of all this outdoor activity, the main focus for today is inside the home. There must be at least 15 finish carpenters at work. Some are installing doors, millwork and hardware. Others are mounting cabinets in the kitchen. Miter boxes hum as trim, millwork and doors are cut to size. Meanwhile, the Horsch & Miller crew are finishing off the HVAC system and installing accessories in the bathrooms. Sometime in the afternoon, Nationwide Floor Covering will arrive to install the laminate flooring that was delivered yesterday.
Today I have the opportunity to join everyone for lunch. Each day of the build, lunch has been provided though generous donations and the generous sponsorship of Thrivent Financial. Since today's lunch, served by Champs, looks especially delicious, I am glad to partake. This time also affords me more opportunity to visit with Gloria and Bashamba as well as workers and other habitat home volunteers. It's a cheerful lunch line; everyone in good spirits. I'm not surprised...the food for the soul we have enjoyed all week along with the tasty food for the body cooks up a recipe of warmth and joy!
The Final Act
Diligently, our hardworking crews direct their efforts toward finishing touches. Blinds are being hung, shelving and ceiling fans are installed, and touch up painting is taking place both inside and out. The semi-enclosed front porch is just lovely - a perfect place to relax. And I am impressed with how the aluminum balusters and stained railings on the ramp give the home a finished appearance. With tan siding and white trim this is one classy house. Gloria and Bashamba pitch in with the final clean up and the ladies from Beautiful Cleaning are preparing to get started. This home will be spanking clean for the "house blessing" service taking place this afternoon.
Like the other days, scores of people are hard at work but today it seems everyone wants to help out with this "final act". It's exciting! Sara Kierzek, executive director of Milwaukee Habitat and Steve Tennies, a key member of Habitat's construction team (and someone we have talked to almost daily over the last several months) are on hand offering assistance. Bob Kelly, Habitat's Technical Administrator, pops in to see how everything's going. Thoughtfully, a friend grabs my camera and says "Now, you get in the picture"! Bob and I move in for a photo. Tim Bolger, City of Milwaukee Construction Inspector arrives on the scene for the final inspection. With a smile, he gives Gloria and Bashamba's home at 3142 N 6th Street, a hearty "thumbs up".
Today the Thrivent Builds for Habitat for Humanity Blitz Build home comes to a close. I am filled with poignant emotion visiting the site this morning. Seeing the beautiful, completed landscaping in front, the work of Wandsnider Landscape Architects, the huge reality of what has been accomplished hits me. Was this really the forlorn vacant lot I saw a month ago? The home that now stands will soon be filled with the enormous love of the new home owners and the laughter of their children.
Later today, I will return once again for a service that will fittingly bless the home that has blessed, and will continue to bless, so many.
Friday, May 18 - afternoon
As I return to the site Friday afternoon, I see the William's new home clean as a whistle and ready for occupancy. I am introduced to Dakari, Kayin and Amaris, Gloria and Bashambas' children. They are precious. Darkari makes his first trip up the ramp constructed especially for him; he is loving it. Kayin and Amaris are bouncing around, unable to contain their excitement. Kayin pulls Carmel Builders President, Tom, by the pants leg into what will be his new room. "I'm going to paint my room blue and green—my favorite colors", he exclaims.
Crowds are gathering now - preparing for the home dedication service. County Executive, Scott Walker, along with leaders from Thrivent Financial for Lutherans and Milwaukee Habitat for Humanity and the Carmel Builders Crew to celebrate the dream of home ownership for the Williams Family. Pastor Mark Jeske from Time of Grace Ministry gives a blessing and we all give thanks!
As I listen, I am reminded that what has been built this week is more than walls and a roof. Together, many hands with one vision have built a home. In the process we have formed community and laid a foundation for community to grow and thrive. This is really what it's all about and what Habitat is all about. Helping hands pulling together to truly make a difference in people's lives.
There's no better reason to celebrate!