Students begin ‘contagious and uplifting’ home rehab in Marion

MARION — Rather than building a new house and offering it for sale as they have for years, high school students in the Marion area this year are renovating a home for a low- to middle-income family.

The project, called Marion Community Build, is part of a class the students are taking. Through the class, they learn trade skills and work hands-on with tasks that go into rehabilitating a home.

The effort is a partnership among the city of Marion, Marion Independent School District and the Linn-Mar Community School District.

“This is a true community partnership,” said Nick Glew, president of the Marion Economic Development Corp. or MEDCO.

“Our organization was initially involved in this because of our Community Promise program, connecting our youth with high-demand jobs in our community. Sometimes they don’t understand there are opportunities right in their backyard.”

For 30 years, students have built brand-new homes to sell. This is the first year students are renovating an older home. Glew said the program hopes to continue to find homes to renovate, completing one every school year.

“We hope once we finish this property, we go to other neighborhoods,” Glew said. “We think it can be contagious and uplifting for neighbors. … This is going to have a beautiful impact across our community.”

MEDCO bought the home at 330 Eighth Ave. in Marion, which had been unoccupied for at least a decade, for $60,000 and reallocated its current revolving loan fund to provide capital for the improvements. The city will leverage a portion of low- and moderate-income funds to assist with costs associated with the construction, maintenance and future sale of the property.

“There are multiple great opportunities,” Marion Mayor Nick AbouAssaly said. “Students gain skills; the neighborhoods have some investment and revitalization. It’s an opportunity for the students to contribute to their community. It’s a great project, and we’re really proud of it.”

The home should be ready no later than graduation, MEDCO Project Manager Dustin Kearn said.

“Ideally, it would be after the first of the year, and we would get it on the market and sold around April, so then we can get another house ready for the next year,” Kearn said.

For the first couple of weeks, the group of eight students has been cleaning up the backyard from the derecho. The students had a large pile of tree debris on the front curb last Friday.

“I’ve been reliving memories of when the storm first hit, doing a lot of yard work,” Marion senior Tyson Whitlock said. “Demo time is going to be fun.”

The students work each day during class time from 1:30 to 3 p.m. and will do so until the next group of students comes in the spring.

“I got involved in this because I’m interested in doing this work on my own without hiring someone,” Linn-Mar senior Caiden Dolezal said. “I’ve built some new houses before, but I feel like this is going to be a lot of ripping out things and replacing.”

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