Board Member and Treasurer
On November 28, 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 Pandemic, our beloved friend and church caretaker, Blue Westfall, succumbed to lung cancer. He had been living in the “manse” (now Unity House) for ten years. With his passing came the hard decision of what to do with the house. A 2016 appraisal of the church property (including the house) indicated a devaluation of $10,000 because of the house’s presence. That was the appraiser’s estimate of the cost to have it demolished.
The board engaged in continual discussions — keep the house, raze the house; keep the house, raze the house — until Pam and Jeff Hippler offered to pay for a structural engineering study, whose findings would help make that decision.
The study was completed and delivered to the Board in February 2021. It planted seeds of hope, but the total costs projected to get the house in good condition were staggering.
Steven Keith (board president), David Gettman, and Barbie Dallmann (treasurer) toured the house in February. It was the first time board members had been inside in many years. All were pleasantly surprised. The house was not as bad as they had feared. Hope began to sprout, and in March the board decided to keep the house, although there was no immediate plan to make it safe and livable. The main concern at that time was the foundation, which was being damaged by the roots of four huge trees in the front yard. In order to stop the damage, the board voted to invest in the removal of the trees while it studied options for repairs.
In May the trees were removed, and Blue’s sister finally removed most of Blue’s furniture and personal items. Pam Hippler worked long hours getting rid of the rest of the items so repairs and cleaning could begin. Meanwhile, the board continued to debate various scenarios, including renting the “good rooms,” while work was performed on the damaged areas.
In July, possible renters were found, and a walk-through was scheduled. They said they would only consider the “partial rental agreement” if (1) a mold remediation company removed all mold and musty odors, (2) the hot water tank was replaced, (3) bathroom plumbing issues were addressed, and (4) the bathtub was cleaned, sealed, and repaired. So, the board approved those expenditures, and David Gettman and Pam Hippler went to work getting quotes and arranging for services.
In August, Barbie presented a Visionary Budget to the Board, presenting one possible scenario that broke the work into three phases. In Phase I, the bare necessities would be completed, and the interested renters would move in at a beginning rent of $500 per month. As rent was collected, additional repairs would begin, including replacing the leaking windows, installing central air conditioning, and repairing the roof, gutters, and downspouts. With each major improvement, the rent would be increased. With the projections in this scenario, the church would see a break-even point after seven years. The Board approved the project, asked Barbie to oversee Phase I, and approved an initial $8,500 to make the house partially rentable. Hope began to grow.
After the mold was removed in early September, Barbie created a detailed plan of all the needed work. She personally rebuilt the area under the bathroom vanity and cleaned the cement from the bottom of the bathtub. She cleaned and sealed the living room fireplace, removed all of the carpeting and rugs from the entire house, pulled up nails and staples, and cleaned the hard wood floors. The kitchen floor needed to be replaced. Barbie leveled it in preparation for Luxury Vinyl Plank flooring, which she bought from Lowe’s and installed herself, along with painted trim work.
In October, Laura Wellstead helped with cabinet repairs in the kitchen, and Sally Snyder began cleaning and installing drywall in three of the upstairs closets that accessed a crawl space under the roof at the front of the house. It was a labor-intensive job that took weeks and some creative body maneuvers to complete. Dannie Walker performed several electrical repairs, including the installation of a new light in the downstairs bedroom. Meanwhile, more problems were encountered with plumbing and the chimney.
Around this time, another potential renter stepped up, interested in using the house as office space and offering to pay $1,600 per month if we could get the house ready by early 2022. The board approved a $20,000 investment. As hope sprouted, work expanded to include sanding and refinishing 1800 square feet of hardwood flooring throughout the house, which was completed in December.
Progress was slowed when Barbie contracted COVID-19 and was unable to work for several weeks. By February, it was determined that the interested business would not be renting the house, but their interest had created a new vision, and we worked long and hard to make the home a space that renters would be willing to pay $1,400 to $1,600 a month to occupy.
Barbie continued to do a lot of the work herself, repairing the back wall in the downstairs bedroom, painting rooms, installing wallpaper, repairing floors, sanding closet doors, and painting the awning over the front door (the worst task of them all). The scope of the work grew to include installing a drop ceiling in the downstairs bedroom, installing a new roof over the old one (David headed both of these projects), replacing living room fans and light fixtures (thanks to Adam Flack), waterproofing the basement walls (Barbie), replacing the heating and cooling systems (again, headed by David Gettman), replacing all of the windows and both of the doors (Barbie coordinated contractors for the windows and doors).
Deb Meredith donated and painted the front door; she also sanded and painted the front entrance sidelights, worked on the landscaping and flower beds around the house, dug out the front walkway, and installed stepping stones. Dannie Walker helped Deb with the yard work.
We held a fundraising event to raise money for all of the repairs. We received an amazing outpouring of $27,753 in donations that went a long way toward paying for the total costs of $47,455.
Many volunteers showed up to paint and clean. Most of the work was completed by April 6, and an Open House with a potluck dinner was held for the membership on Sunday, May 15. Fliers were designed, printed, and distributed. A FOR RENT sign was hung in the window. Within days, we had a person interested, and he took possession on June 2 at a monthly rental rate of $1,450.
As of December 31, 2023, we are just $1,000 from breaking even with this project to date, in large part because of the generous donations of money, time, supplies, and skills. As we accumulate income from ongoing rentals, we will continue with necessary renovations (particularly in the kitchen) and pay close attention to any needed foundation repairs.
This was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. The work I did at Unity House fed my soul. The love that went into the renovation is such an inspiration as well as a reflection of Unity Principles in action.
Thank you, God, for a Successful Renovation!!! Hope in full bloom!!!