Nonprofit, cigarette maker team to build house in 5 days

The home as of Wednesday. Photo by Jonathan Spiers.

The home as of Wednesday. Photo by Jonathan Spiers.

After missing their goal last year due to rain, a local housing nonprofit and Richmond tobacco giant’s effort to build a home in five days is on track to meet its self-imposed deadline.

Project:Homes is working with Philip Morris USA to complete construction of a new house by Friday in Southern Barton Heights. Work started Monday and was ahead of schedule as of Wednesday, putting the group on pace to meet the five-day goal they missed by two days last year.

Progress after the first day of construction. Courtesy Project:Homes

Progress after the first day of construction. Courtesy Project:Homes

The one-story, 1,500-square-foot house taking shape at 22 King St. is the second collaboration between the two groups, which came up with the five-day project as an exercise for engineering students interning at Philip Morris’s Southside manufacturing facility.

The three-bedroom, two-bathroom house – to be sold to a low-income military veteran – offers the 12 interns hands-on experience as project managers that they can carry over into their duties at Philip Morris, said Jim Dawson, an associate staff engineer with the Richmond-based company, a division of locally headquartered Altria Group.

“It kind of mimics what it’s like in a real-life plant scenario at the manufacturing center,” Dawson said. “We have shutdowns twice a year, where we perform a lot of our maintenance and project activity, and they typically happen in a five-day period, around the clock, 24 hours a day. That’s how the idea behind doing the house in five days came about.”

Similarly, the housebuilding operation has been a round-the-clock project, with work continuing throughout the day and overnight. The foundation was previously laid and some supplies were placed on-site, but construction started in earnest Monday morning and has been ongoing since.

“It’s been a lot of fun. It’s really cool to watch,” said Project:Homes’ Matt Morgan, who has been overseeing the project with Dawson and the interns.

The King Street lot as it awaited construction to begin.

The King Street lot as it awaited construction to begin. Courtesy Project:Homes.

“What they gain is project management and problem-solving skills. What we gain is some really innovative approaches to house-building. We’ve been doing this a long time, but this is only the second time trying to do it under a week, so we learn what can be going on at the same time, how do we make the process faster, how do we keep our energy-efficiency standards all moving a little quicker.”

With the interns serving as project managers, local contractors were hired to construct the house, which will have a price tag of $150,000. More than 100 people are involved in the project, which is the sixth house Project:Homes has built in Southern Barton Heights – the other five across the street lining Rose Avenue.

The Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority purchased the 0.15-acre lot in May for $88,000, according to city property records. The land was then transferred to Project:Homes.

The house is one of 25 homes the nonprofit is slated to build this year. It has built 138 houses for low-income families and individuals in Richmond and Henrico County since it started in 2000.

Its other projects include a house funded through the nonprofit Maggie Walker Community Land Trust in North Church Hill, where Project:Homes has been active in recent years through construction projects such as the nearby Church Hill Model Block.

Beyond homebuilding, Project:Homes was also behind the purchase and renovation of the William Byrd building, which recently underwent a $5 million upgrade.

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