Paul Caldwell, 75, remembers when some of the streets in his Northside neighborhood were dirt.
Dirt like the floor of the crawl space beneath his brick-foundation home, where for years the water seeped in with each heavy rain, slowly corroding his and wife Belinda’s hot water heater.
Last week, the water heater, rusted and busted, sat outside the couple’s 600 Church St. home, while Realtors, tradespeople and two Mormon missionaries worked inside on renovations.
The Orange Chatham Association of Realtors chose the Caldwells’ house for its 10th Fix-A-Home project. It is the biggest, most extensive remodel the group has tackled.
Every room will be renovated, including the kitchen and bathroom, where floorboards have had to be removed so termite-damaged joists could be replaced.
The open bathroom floor now looks down onto the crawlspace, where last week Mike McKinney of Carrboro Crawlspace Solutions and Samantha Tessel were on their knees, beaming miners’ headlights into the dark to remove broken glass and other debris and lay a plastic vapor barrier over the dirt.
The Caldwells have not seen any of this. As part of Fix-A-Home they moved in with their son in Durham while the 75 volunteers take approximately a month to renovate. The Realtors hope to welcome them back for the big reveal Oct. 7.
Paul Caldwell, a retired UNC Public Safety officer, has even been taking a special route to Northside Elementary School where he works as a crossing guard, so he doesn’t accidentally pass by the house and see the work.
But he’s been thinking about it.
“It means so much,” he said. “I’ve been in that house for right at 50 years. We’ve had little repairs done here and there, but over the years the major parts of the house really started to deteriorate.”
The couple are proud and didn’t want to ask their children for help, said Belinda Caldwell, 66.
The water heater went out three months ago, and they has been without hot water ever since.
“You lay in bed at night and you just ask God, ‘How are we going to get these things accomplished’,” Paul Caldwell said.
The couple have raised seven children, had long careers at the university, and served on community boards. They are members of First Baptist Church and the Northside Compass Group, which works to preserve owner occupancy when homes in the historically black, working-class Northside neighborhood go up for sale.
“They both know an incredible amount of history because they’ve lived it,” said Hudson Vaughan, senior director of the Marian Cheek Jackson Center for Saving and Making History.
I really do believe in God, because I prayed to God and he answered my prayer.
But that history has taken a toll on the house.
In addition to all the volunteer labor, the Realtors are trying to raise at least $10,000 to pay for all the repairs.
“Hopefully, we’ll have more – because we’re spending it,” said Anne Hoole, the Fix-A-Home committee chair. “We call it peeling the onion. You peel back the pieces, and you always find more than you were expecting.”
In addition to new floors, the Caldwells are getting central heating and air conditioning to replace a woodstove, space heaters and inefficient window unit air conditioners. The home is being rewired – Todd Lawton and Amber Leach of Lawton Electric were installing smoke alarms last week – with all new fixtures.
“The biggest job is the plumbing,” Hoole added. “There are good reasons we said we were going to need a full month.”
The Caldwells can wait, just barely.
“I can’t even get a good night’s sleep,” Paul Caldwell said. “I’m like a little kid. It’s like it’s December, and I know Santa Claus is coming.”
Fix-A-Home is an annual community service targeting homeowners who take pride in homeownership but are physically and/or financially unable to make repairs or perform maintenance. One home each year receives repairs and upgrades made by Orange Chatham Association of Realtors volunteers, partnering vendors and tradespeople.