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Front Page » December 14, 2006 » Local News » Multiple agencies combine resources, construct home for c...
Published 3,219 days ago

Multiple agencies combine resources, construct home for couple

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Sun Advocate reporter

Utah prison inmates pour a concrete pad behind the home of Steve Pappas and Nancy Mercer. Prisoners provided the labor to construct a home that was both efficient and accessible. Inmates came up with the idea to add a sidewalk farther into the yard so the owners could enjoy a large cottonwood tree.

The Southeastern Utah Association of Local Governments announced earlier in Decemeber that a private residence constructed for two Price residents was nearing completion. In a one-of-a-kind effort, multiple agencies teamed up to construct the home of Steve Pappas and Nancy Mercer.

Pappas and Mercer are not the average married couple.

Both use wheelchairs to get around, but even that aspect of their life is somewhat unique. Since Mercer is unable to use the controllers of her motorized wheelchair, Pappas controls his wife's wheelchair and follows behind in his own.

Like other individuals who have minimal or no mobility, Mercer requires a caretaker. She has special needs for both herself and her caretaker.

Using his wheelchair, Pappas is fairly independent. Still, stairs, high counters and other obstacles can present a problem.

The couple are determined to live as independently as possible and rarely ask assistance of anyone, said SEUALG's housing rehabilitation specialist, Marilyn Vogrinec.

Representatives from all the agencies involved participated in a ribbon cutting on Dec. 1. A few items are left to be completed, but the couple will be moving in any day.

When she first started working with the couple, Vogrinec said she hoped to renovate the couple's 1940s rental property. In addition to battling extreme accessibility issues, the couple was paying more than $200 a month to heat the small 600 square foot home.

However, renovating a rental house is outside the guidelines for the home rehabilitation programs administered through SEUALG.

After exploring several different options, including petitioning the ABC show "Extreme Makeover," Vogrenic was determined to find a way to improve the quality of life for Mercer and Pappas.

The solution came when Vogrinec toured the Utah State Prison in Draper and found out about the Utah Correctional Industries program, which allows inmates to learn job skills and provide hands-on instruction and experience.

"I, like most citizens, thought the only thing inmates made were license plates," commented Vogrinec.

After learning about the UCI programs at state correctional institutions, Vogrinec set out to couple the state's UCI program with the home rehabilitation program to build a home that would fit the individual needs for the couple.

In January, plans were made by representatives of multiple agencies who teamed up to build a home that would be energy-efficient, barrier-free and still within a minimal budget.

For funding, the United States Department of Agriculture's rural development division approved a low-interest loan available to first-time homebuyers.

Additional funding came from a grant to make the home Energy Star rated.

Energy Star is a joint venture of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy. By receiving an Energy Star certification, a specific product or service is shown to be energy efficient.

In planning the home, Energy Star appliances were selected and construction was planned to incorporate many energy saving measures into the home's design.

A Community Development Block Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development provided funding to cover closing costs.

Price city officials waived connection and permitting fees for utilities and construction and the Price River Water Improvement District deferred the impact fee. As long as Mercer and Pappas own the home, they will not have to pay the impact fee. However, once the home is sold, the next owner will need to pay the fee to the water district.

Local businesses contributed with donations including excavation and fill, floor coverings and installation and a bedroom set.

Vogrinec explained that the prison system's program has built many homes, but never anything with the accessibility and other features of this home.

In order to meet the needs of the couple, the house has no steps at any of its entrances and all doors both, interior and exterior, are 36 inches wide with offset hinged doors that position the door outside of the doorway when it is opened.

Other features include planning lighting so that it is easier to be changed by someone in a wheelchair. Countertops were lowered and sinks allow the wheelchair to be pulled underneath.

A roll-in shower allows for easier access and a lift system makes it possible for Pappas to assist his wife in the shower and help her into and out of bed.

A second lift system in the front room makes it possible for Mercer to sit in a chair.

Vogrinec explained that Mercer is basically confined to her wheelchair. And other than at night, when her husband assists her into bed, she doesn't get out of the chair. The lift system makes it possible for her to get out of the chair and give her husband more ability to function as her caretaker.

Inmates at the prison in Draper built the modular home in two large sections, which was then transported to Price.

As part of the prison's program, inmates who are nearing the end of their sentence assemble and finish the home at the site. Beyond just building a floor, walls and a roof, inmates install both interior end exterior design, including may items generally left up to the first owner, such as window coverings, bathroom finishings and landscaping.

Each time construction crews came to an obstacle, Vogrinec explained that workers would grab a chair. By changing their perspective, workers found the solution that was most appropriate.

The exterior of the home will be xeriscaped, limiting the need for routine yard care. The driveway is slightly wider to allow room for the lift installed in couple's van.

Inmates even added their own ideas to the project, such as an extension from the patio to a large cottonwood tree in the back yard.

"This project was the first of its kind in the state of Utah as far as we can tell," said Vogrinec. "It is hoped that this project will be a pilot for many more projects to come."

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