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- 2014 - June - 13th -

Contractors ‘blitz’ New Town to build, renovate 50 homes

By Carole Hawkins, Staff Writer

Steve Merten isn’t used to scheduling crews in three-hour shifts on construction projects.

On Wednesday, a morning team installing trim finished just in time for an afternoon crew to start painting.

“I’ve been double-checking schedules and making many phone calls this week,” said Merten, Jacksonville division vice president for Toll Brothers, a Pennsylvania-based homebuilder.

“What would be bad is if someone didn’t show up,” he said. “Thankfully everyone’s been here on time.”

Merten is one of more than 30 homebuilders and subcontractors leading projects for HabiJax’s Builders Blitz. More than 1,500 volunteers also participated in the weeklong event to build 25 homes and renovate 25 others in New Town.

It’s HabiJax’s second Builders Blitz since the recession and the first in which Builders Care, the nonprofit arm of the Northeast Florida Builders Association, has returned as a partner to renovate old homes.

It’s been a challenge for builders like Toll Brothers — short-staffed and keen to capitalize on a long-awaited market recovery — to spare workforce for the charity build. But Merten seemed to be enjoying the pressure.

“It’s different to work for free. It’s fun to help out,” he said. “This is a beautiful area. It just needs some support.”

One pair of hands helping Merten belongs to Alysa Booth, a 23-year old technical support specialist for Citigroup. Booth will move into the home at the end of the week. She didn’t qualify when she applied for a home loan through a bank, but did qualify for HabiJax’s zero-interest loan program.

“I can’t wait,” said Booth, who spent the morning installing siding. “I just want something me and my 3-year old daughter can call our own.”

A few blocks away, Candice Aery, a project administrator for LandSouth Construction, was managing the renovation of a home where Gerald DeBardelaben lives with his 2-year-old granddaughter.

Team members replaced a roof that had holes in it and repaired and painted water-damaged walls. They also are installing new siding, energy efficient windows, heating and air-conditioning units and kitchen cabinets. Floors of bare plywood will be covered by linoleum planking and the entire piping system will be replaced.

DeBardelaben, who formerly installed air conditioning, has been out of work since he was injured seven years ago.

“You better believe it was hard to do repairs without any money coming in,” DeBardelaben said. “You can’t put a price on what these people are doing for us. If they leave, I’ll go running after them.”

LandSouth, a Jacksonville Beach company that builds apartment communities, took on three home renovations for this year’s Builders Blitz.

“The company is doing well and the owner likes to give back, and to keep it local when he does,” Aery said.

Upon seeing DeBardelaben’s backyard, Aery added one more item to the team’s to-do list — a play area with a swing set for DeBardelaben’s granddaughter.

“I have three daughters,” Aery said. “My picture was — she could run out the back door and play here.”

The HabiJax Builders Blitz concludes Saturday with a dedication ceremony.

chawkins@baileypub.com

(904) 356-2466

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