A Home Again

It’s not uncommon to read about a house being seized because its resident is cooking methamphetamine. Delaware County led Indiana with the most meth labs seized in 2015, according to the Indiana State Police.

But while what happens to a house after the meth lab inside is seized and removed doesn’t normally make the spotlight, it DOES have impact on the community.

Craig Graybeal knows this firsthand as the executive director of EcoREHAB of Muncie. Graybeal raises money to rehabilitate houses and to preserve and restore neighborhoods.

One of his most recent projects was the rehabilitation of a 100-year-old house on West 10th Street. The house’s previous residents had been busted for cooking meth. Graybeal bought the house for $1,000 in August 2015.

He said there had been a serious lack of maintenance on the house: the foundation was inferior; the floors were uneven, and much of the wiring and plumbing had been removed.

“It was as if somebody had taken trash bags full of fast-food wrappers, kids toys, clothing, paper trash, old mail, groceries and everything else and ripped open the bags and spread it all over the house for 30 minutes. It was just trashed,” Graybeal said.

Due to the condition of the house and the presence of meth contamination, the entire inside had to be demolished. What was left to work with was a floor, studs and a door to the outside of the house.

The Ball Brothers Foundation funded the renovation of the project, and 20 Ball State architecture students worked over three semesters to complete the renovation.

Before the students came in, however, the meth had to be remediated. This added an extra cost to the house, and it required a demolition crew.

Chris Hill, co-owner of DC Environmental Solutions, was hired to do the demolition. Hill has cleaned meth houses before, but he said the levels of contamination in this house were some of the highest he’s ever seen.

“It’s best to fully suit up in a house like that,” Hill said. “Hazmat suit, full-face respirator, gloves. It’s better to be safe than sorry because the chemicals are really potent and can irritate the eyes.”

Although they demolished the inside of the house, the crew still sprayed some chemicals afterward.

“Going by state law, the demolition work was enough to make the house habitable again, but we had to spray the windows and doors because those weren’t taken out,” Hill said.

It took the students from January to July to essentially rebuild the house. In the end, the rehabilitation cost a little more than $60,000. Graybeal said even though the meth remediation was an added cost, rehabilitation was still the cheaper option as opposed to tearing down the house completely and building new.

“If you look at the cost to demolish a house, to get rid of everything, remediate the ground where the foundation was and create a new foundation over solid ground, get all-new materials, and build a house, it’s $110-120 per square foot on average. For a rehab, it’s $60-80 per square foot,” he said.

Another thing to think about is if the lot might be too small to rebuild on. Sometimes the lots are too small by today’s standards to build a new house on.

“Is it better to have an empty, blighted house that’s a nuisance and a hazard to the neighborhood or an empty lot?” Graybeal said. “I’d go with the empty lot because it doesn’t pose nearly as much liability as a vacant house.”

Rehabilitating the house also keeps value in the neighborhood. Even though residents most likely wouldn’t care whether the house was new or rehabilitated, Graybeal said the one thing residents don’t want is an empty house.

“I think that rehabbing an old house adds value from a cultural standpoint, certainly from an aesthetic or architectural standpoint,” Graybeal said. “Saving the houses that are in the neighborhood and preserving the architectural style of the neighborhood is important.

“If it’s a vacant house that can be rehabbed and provide a quality home for somebody in the future, I would go with that route. There’s just a lot of them, and we don’t have enough time and money for all of them.”