Community Rebuilds celebrates completion of its third home in Moab
by Charli Engelhorn
staff writer
Jun 28, 2012 | 390 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Community Rebuilds Director Emily Niehaus talks about the group’s recently completed straw bale home during a ribbon-cutting ceremony last week. After the ceremony, the group hosted an open house where community members could see the finished home and learn about the building process. Photo by Tyson Swasey
Community Rebuilds Director Emily Niehaus talks about the group’s recently completed straw bale home during a ribbon-cutting ceremony last week. After the ceremony, the group hosted an open house where community members could see the finished home and learn about the building process. Photo by Tyson Swasey
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Members of local non-profit organization Community Rebuilds celebrated completion of the group’s third straw bale home with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday, June 22.

“This building came in very under budget and on time, which is really awesome,” said Community Rebuilds Director Emily Niehaus. “We budgeted for about $100 per square foot, and we ended up being able to build this for $80 per square foot.”

Niehaus said much of the savings came from recycling materials from the trailer previously located on the property at 496 Bowen Circle, and from having an efficient staff.

“We are able to reduce the cost below that of conventional construction because we receive a lot of financial support for our education program. We provide housing and a food stipend to our students in return for their experience,” said Niehaus.

Since 2010, Community Rebuilds has been helping Moab residents replace dilapidated mobile homes with sustainably built straw bale homes. Student interns who work on the projects receive training in green building practices and get hands-on experience doing that work, according to Niehaus.

Staff members Kelly Matthews of Durango, Colo. and local resident Eric Plourde are the instructors for the program and run a “tight team,” according to Niehaus. In the process, Community Rebuilds trains a future workforce in green building. In March, Niehaus was recognized by the Obama administration as a Champion of Change for her work with the organization.

“It’s just so great to be recognized for success in doing something that people are hungry for... and in training people how to build sustainably,” said Niehaus. “Part of that success is working with Kelly and Eric through the last two builds. They are amazing instructors, and we are good at supporting each other.”

Next on the horizon for Community Rebuilds is breaking ground on another home in Moab and expanding the operation to build a home in Durango.

“We have more students than we can support in Moab, so Kelly made a request to do a build in Durango. The board of directors supported the expansion... and Durango is a logical expansion for us,” Niehaus said.

The program, according to Niehaus, will fashion itself after the Habitat for Humanity model in order for other communities to be able to incorporate the Community Rebuilds scheme and experience into building affordable housing. There is also interest to do a build in Gunnison, Colo., in 2013.

Allison VanLonkhuyzen of Moab will be the next recipient of a community rebuilds home. Although not previously a homeowner, VanLonkhuyzen applied for and received a U.S. Department of Agriculture loan to purchase a parcel of land on 300 East with a trailer unit currently onsite.

“I never thought I would be able to buy a house in Moab. Once I saw [a previous recipient’s] home, I realized that it could be a possibility for me, and I decided to apply,” said VanLonkhuyzen. “I’m super excited.”

The property had been on the market for two years without much interest. VanLonkhuyzen said she was able to acquire the loan to purchase the property by working with a loan officer from Monticello. She said the process was easy and the loan amount was based on her income level.

Groundbreaking on VanLonkhuyzen’s home will begin in August. Three international interns will join five American interns for that build, and Niehaus said she is looking forward to working with her team again.

“I cannot be more grateful to them [Plourde and Matthews] and, of course, Ben Byrd Construction. He still believes in us and loves the product,” she said.

Niehaus also said she hopes to continue working with others in the community who are involved with conventional construction practices, such as Walker True Value, who sponsored the third build.

“It was fun to celebrate the connection between natural building and conventional construction in working with Walker True Value,” said Niehaus. “We’re not building spaceships, just homes with the most natural materials we can... It’s great to be able to bring the two worlds together.”

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