April 2, 2010 in Business

Service Team refurbishes old homes for new use

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Colin Mulvany photo

Andrew Kurtz, a construction crew member with AmeriCorps, hauls a sheet of plywood into a house being renovated into a classroom for NorthEast Washington Educational Service District 101, at 2504 E. Riverside Ave.
(Full-size photo)

Map of this story's location

Construction trainees are transforming the intersection of Riverside Avenue and Cook Street from eyesore into a potential minicampus.

Two sagging homes on the southwest corner have been connected, and remodeling continues on space occupied by several AmeriCorps programs, including that of the Spokane Service Team doing the remodeling.

The City of Spokane owns the buildings. AmeriCorps is the tenant.

On the other side of Cook, team members are shoring up another home that will become a classroom, offices, and a space for tool storage. Two shacks once used for prostitution squat behind the home next door.

All three structures will be razed because they are beyond repair, said construction supervisor Mike Murphy. He supervises 24 youths learning building trades. Most have high school diplomas but, if not, they are encouraged to get one or a GED. They are paid, he said, and those who stay on for one year receive a tuition grant of about $5,000 that is good for seven years. Those who remain two years get $10,000.

They can also transition into construction trade apprenticeship programs, said Murphy, a former contractor.

A separate, six-month Youth Build program offers high school dropouts modest wages and a $1,000 grant.

Murphy said team members strip the buildings down to the studs, realign sagging floors and walls, then refinish the new surfaces.

Allen Schmelzer, a planner in the Spokane Community Development Department, said the city uses the Service Team to board up abandoned homes and to do weatherization projects, as well as remodeling foreclosed homes into properties the city can resell or reuse, like those at Cook and Riverside.

Schmelzer said he may ask the city to vacate one-half block of Cook between the converted homes to create a minicampus for the trainees and AmeriCorps volunteers.

Team members will also rehabilitate a nearby warehouse modified by former owners who ignored building codes, he said.

“We’re helping revitalize the area by upgrading,” he said.

Murphy said the team can work only for nonprofit agencies, among them Volunteers of America and Spokane Neighborhood Action Programs.

Whiz Kids has reopened …

Jan St. George, former manager of downtown Spokane toy store Whiz Kids, reopened the shop on Wednesday after a two-month closure.

Former owners Peter Christensen and Susan Peterson closed Whiz Kids, 808 W. Main St., and the adjoining Children’s Corner Books after a yearlong sales slump.

“My heart is here. I love this place,” said St. George. She’s retaining the name Whiz Kids and will keep it open seven days a week, in keeping with River Park Square practices. River Park Square is an affiliate of Cowles Co., the parent company of The Spokesman-Review.

St. George acquired the business names of both stores and their inventories. But she said she has no plans to reopen Children’s Corner.

“This will be a toy store with some books, and generally books for younger readers,” she said.

… but Wetzel’s has closed

If you recently joined the Wetzel’s Pretzels Facebook page, don’t expect a lot of activity. The food specialty shop, in the east end of River Park Square, closed on Wednesday. No explanation was given for the closure, said Elizabeth Mills, marketing director for the downtown Spokane mall. The Wetzel’s Pretzels Facebook page makes no mention of the closure as well.

Second Coconutz location opens

Traci Steenburgen-Campbell recently opened her second Coconutz Tanning Spa, at 101 E. Hastings Road, in north Spokane.

Steenburgen-Campbell opened her first shop at 13330 E. Sprague Ave. six years ago.

Both privately held businesses are open seven days a week.

Steenburgen-Campbell said she took a five-year lease in the new space, a few blocks east of Mead High School.

Staff writer Tom Sowa contributed to this report. Here’s the Dirt is a weekly report on new developments and business openings, closings or movement in the Inland Northwest. E-mail business@ spokesman.com or call (509)459-5528.


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