Habitat for Humanity goes (partially) modular

Habitat for Humanity volunteers in Middletown put the pieces together rather than building from scratch.
Habitat for Humanity volunteers in Middletown put the pieces together rather than building from scratch.

By Robert Kalesse
Special to Delaware Business Times

Each time Habitat for Humanity sets out to build homes for low-income families, two variables stand in the way of completing a project. Inclement and extreme weather can affect everything from worker safety to building materials, and insufficient or costly staffing can result in projects taking longer than anticipated.

But officials have set into motion what they hope will provide a solution to both problems, thanks to Habitat’s new partnership with Beracah Homes, Inc. The prefab, modular home construction company, located in the small Sussex County town of Greenwood, has been brought on to build five pre-fab homes for use in Middletown and Newark.

Kevin Smith, chief executive officer of Habitat for Humanity of New Castle County, said that he and his staff began looking for an indoor building solution last year, after having to cut back on paid construction staff. The previous two harsh winters also took a toll on materials and job site safety.

“When we were forced to cut back on paid construction staff, we still wanted to be the best steward of the resources we have to get houses built,” Smith said. “Places like Middletown and other areas out in the county present a challenge for us in terms of staffing. This partnership will help us remove some of that overhead.”

Mike Synczyszyn
Mike Synczyszyn

According to Mike Synczyszyn, director of construction operations, even a light snowfall in the winter or 98-degree day in the summer can halt construction. The time it would take to normally make a site safe to receive volunteers will also be taken out of the equation, thanks to the union with Beracah.

“Last winter we lost seven weeks [of building] due to bad weather,” Synczyszyn said. “When you’re in the rough framing stage, you might have four walls up, but the second deck isn’t up, so you have an exposed subfloor. A light rain means we have to put the tarp on, which takes time. Even the equipment can seize up in extreme temperatures.”

Beracah Homes, Inc., which has been operating for 13 years and employs roughly 75 Delaware residents, was contacted by Habitat when they began their competitive bid process. Synczyszyn said Beracah’s quick turnaround, indoor facility and willingness to observe Habitat’s process were they key factors in winning the contract.

Roger Collison
Roger Collison

“A lot of times when you work with a contractor, even if it’s for a project in your own home, that contractor will offer a variety of ways they can complete a project,” Synczyszyn said. “But we had a blueprint in mind that we did not want compromised, and Beracah was willing to work with us.”

Neal Smith, sales representative handling the Habitat account for Beracah, said his company is extremely excited about working with Habitat, and hopes to “foster a long-lasting relationship that will extend past the first five houses.”

Four of the houses will be positioned in the second phase of Middeltown’s Faith Way neighborhood, which features 22 existing homes built by Habitat for Humanity volunteers. Smith said that even though the Beracah project will cut down on volunteer hours, Habitat’s mission will not change.

Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith

“Volunteers are still a major part of our operation, but for these houses, only about 10 percent of the work will be done by volunteers once the houses are delivered,” Smith said. “There will still be finishing work that has to be done on-site, and we will have volunteers scheduled to help with that process.”

Those interested in volunteering for Habitat for Humanity can check the website at www.habitatncc.org or call 652-0365 and dial extension 110 to speak with the volunteer coordinator. Opportunities exist on-site, as well as for committees, events, and hours at their Re-Store facility, a hard-goods thrift store, in Prices Corner. ♦

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