SANDPOINT – The mayor knew.
Several contractors in town knew.
The sheriff knew.
The publisher of the local newspaper knew.
An espresso maker and baker downtown knew.
Schweitzer ski area knew.
In fact, it seemed like just about everyone in town knew that “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” was coming to town to build a home for a local family down on their luck.
But Eric Hebert didn’t know for sure until about 9 a.m. Saturday when Ty Pennington and his design crew from ABC’s “Extreme Makeover” reality TV show knocked on his door.
“He called me immediately after,” said Dave Cochran, Hebert’s boss at Lakeshore Properties, a local construction company. “He was pretty shaken in a good way. You could hear the emotion in his voice. You could hear the kids in the background giggling and laughing.
“He couldn’t believe it. He was just astounded.”
Hebert, 33, is the sole guardian of his sister’s children, Kyler and Keeley, who are third-graders in Sandpoint. Hebert’s sister, Francine Hebert, died in April 2004 from a heart attack, and Hebert’s own parents died when he was 16. So Hebert took custody of his sister’s twins and relocated from Montana to Sandpoint, according to a publicity firm for “Extreme Makeover” and Sullivan Homes of Spokane, the primary contractor on the job.
The family has been living in an unfinished house – basically just a basement with a roof over it.
“I talked to people who were looking at it when it was for sale,” said Carol McLeod, who lives in a motor home on neighboring property. “And it was barely livable.”
In a way, the Heberts’ situation isn’t all that unusual, she said.
“This is North Idaho,” she said. “They could have thrown a rock in any direction and found a story just like this.”
The Heberts were one of five families in the Inland Northwest who were waiting anxiously to get word Saturday morning, said Milan Vasic, location manager for “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”
The others did not get a consolation prize, he said.
“There is a good chance they could be revisited down the line,” he said.
A black stretch limousine arrived Saturday afternoon to take Hebert, Kyler and Keeley to the airport. They were reportedly catching a plane for the Bahamas, where they’ll spend the coming week while some 2,500 workers descend on their property just off Baldy Mountain Road to build their new home.
Because of the enormous amount of labor and materials needed to build a custom home in a week’s time, the hard-luck story is just one criterion for being selected for “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition’s” largess.
“The city has to be able to close the roads. Neighbors have to be on board,” Vasic said.
The Bonner County Sheriff’s Department closed Baldy Mountain Road shortly after 9 a.m. and posted deputies along the road who questioned anyone who was in the vicinity.
Neighbor Mac Macdonald is letting Lock and Key Productions, which produces “Extreme Makeover,” use his property for parking and setting up productions tents.
In exchange, he said he might get some gravel for his driveway and joked that he hoped to get some decking for the addition he’s putting on his house.
“I’m having a competition to see if I can get done with my addition before they get done with theirs,” he said while hammering composite shakes onto his roof.
Next door, through the trees, the hoots and hollers could be heard over the hammering as the Heberts got the good news.
The neighbor to the east is letting Lock and Key Productions build a road through his field for large trucks bearing building supplies to the site, which is set back in the trees off Baldy Mountain Road.
Vasic said it’s only the second time Lock and Key Productions has had to build a road to do an Extreme Makeover. Cochran said the road construction, which began Wednesday, wasn’t a dead giveaway to Hebert because the neighbor already was planning to put in a road to service a tree farm.
The community’s cooperation also included plenty of secrecy.
As local building contractor Skip Pucci measured out the new road Wednesday and planted stakes with a crew, he wasn’t about to divulge the secret.
“It’s a land development,” he said when asked.
Others said if the secret got out, the television production company would leave the family to live in their dungeon-like home.
Most of the numerous suppliers and contractors involved were donating much, if not all, of their labor and supplies.
“I went to my people and said, ‘You’d have to work evenings and weekends, so whoever wants to do it, step forward,’ ” said Todd Sullivan of Sullivan Homes. “And they all stepped forward. Then they (Lock and Key Productions) sent a bunch of DVDs, so every night my wife and I grab a box of Kleenex and watch these things.”
The construction will begin Monday with demolition and continue 24 hours a day until the “reveal” on Saturday, when the family returns from vacation to see their new house.
The episode won’t be broadcast until sometime in 2006.