SCI Greene community work program makes a difference with house rehabilitation program

April 12, 2014
An inmate with the state Correctional Institution at Greene’s Community Works Program removes debris from a crawl space at a house in Bobtown. Watching are, left, SCI employee Dave Thomas, foreman of the inmate work crew, and right, Dave Mirkovich, executive director of the Greene County Redevelopment Authority, which owns the house. - Bob Niedbala / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

BOBTOWN – The house at 193 Adelaide Street in Bobtown was abandoned.

For at least nine years, nobody had lived in it nor bothered to pay the long overdue property taxes. As expected, gradual deterioration became evident.

“From the outside it didn’t look too bad, but inside it was a mess,” said Dave Mirkovich, executive director of Greene County Redevelopment Authority, which bought the property nobody had wanted, even after the back taxes and liens had been removed in a judicial sale.

The kitchen ceiling had collapsed because of the leaking roof, interior walls were damaged and the furnace in the basement and water and gas meters outside had been removed.

But many changes have come about during the last four months.

The house, two stories with white vinyl siding built in the fashion of the surrounding homes, is now being restored by the authority under a program aimed at rehabilitating abandoned houses to provide families with affordable homes, eliminate community blight and return the properties to the tax rolls.

Work on the Bobtown house should be completed this summer and the house will be put up for sale.

Initial success

It will be the first house to be completed under the authority’s housing program and its success, Mirkovich said, is coming about primarily because of free labor provided by inmates in the state Correctional Institution at Greene’s Community Works Program.

A CWP crew of three or four inmates has been working at the house on and off since Dec. 3.

Though contractors had been hired to install a new furnace, electrical service, carpeting and flooring, the rest of the work was done by the inmates, Mirkovich said.

The CWP crew replaced part of the roof and repaired the kitchen ceiling, installed new electrical wiring and replaced most of the plumbing, hung new dry wall, repaired plaster, painted and mounted new windows and doors.

Mirkovich estimated the inmates have put in a total of 1,300 hours on the project.

“Their labor is basically what will make this work,” he said.

A contractor hired to do the project could have cost the authority as much as $70,000, Mirkovich explained. But the average sale price of a two-bedroom house in Bobtown similar to the one being restored is only about $38,000.

If the authority had used a contractor, it would have eaten up more of the authority’s available funds. “That’s where the inmates came to the rescue,” Mirkovich said. Their labor will make it possible for the authority to sell the house without suffering a big loss.

“It makes it more likely that we’ll be able to get the money we put into the house out of it and maybe make a little profit to put toward another house,” Mirkovich said.

Community works

SCI-Greene has been operating the community works program since the prison’s opening in 1993. It now has three CWP crews that do work in the community for nonprofit organizations and state and local governments.

All of the inmates who work with the CWP must maintain community and minimal supervision status, said CWP labor foreman Dave Thomas, an SCI employee who supervises the crew.

“Many of them are close to finishing up their minimum sentence and are getting ready to get paroled,” he said. In the six years he has been a foreman, Thomas said, he has never had a problem with the men.

Inmates who were at the house Wednesday were focused on their tasks and seemed to enjoy the work. Many of them enter the program with very few construction skills, but “they catch on pretty quickly,” Thomas said.

Thomas worked with one inmate who was preparing to install an interior door and talked with another about mounting an outdoor light fixture. In addition to offering instruction, Thomas said, he also provides the inmates with books on the various tasks at hand.

The program gives the inmates a set of skills that they can possibly use after they leave prison, Thomas said. It also gets them away from the institution for part of the day. “They like to get out of their cells and be outside the institution,” he said.

Thomas said his crew does most of its work in Greene County. The crew, which can include up to six inmates, has done work for Habitat for Humanity, Washington City Mission, the WWJD Center, Greene County Parks and Recreation and Waynesburg Borough, among others.

They have cleaned, painted, completed new construction, which involved framing and dry wall or siding work, and done roofing and electrical work. A crew also once helped a municipality dig sewer lines and it regularly assists the state Department of Transportation clean up along state highways.

Their services are much desired. Thomas said the crews now book three four months in advance.

The Bobtown house had been purchased by the authority from the county’s repository of tax delinquent properties, which includes properties that failed to sell at tax sales and at subsequent judicial sales.

No taxes had been paid on the Bobtown house since 2005, Mirkovich said.

The authority’s housing program is funded by a $600,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, $525,000 from the county’s Marcellus Shale impact fee allocations and $83,000 from municipalities in which properties have been targeted.

Authority’s goal

The goal of the authority’s housing program is to restore blighted properties and to sell them, making a small profit to allow the authority to complete additional homes and to generate operating income for the authority.

However, some of its houses are simply too deteriorated to be restored and will be razed primarily to remove blight from the community, Mirkovich said. Others houses the authority may have to sink more money into to repair than it will receive from their sales.

Mirkovich credited the CWP crew for making the difference at the Bobtown house. He’d like to have the inmates working with the authority full time though, he said, he knows they can’t because of their commitment to other projects.

“If I had the crew full time, we could do great things,” Mirkovich said “They do a heck of a job, really nice work. I am proud to show it off,” he said.

Bob Niedbala worked as a general assignment reporter for the newspaper for 27 years in the Greene County bureau. He received a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Pittsburgh.

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