By Jacqueline Reis TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
WORCESTER — The three-story building at 4 King St. has been vacant since two fires in 2009 cleared out the community groups it used to hold. Now it is being rebuilt to its full potential by a handful of young men who hope to reach theirs.
Stone Soup, the artist and activist collective that owns the building, has continued to meet since the fires, and wrangling with the building's insurance company finally gave way to a payment earlier this year. Two months ago, crews from YouthBuild started work demolishing unstable parts of the building and cleaning up smoke and water damage.
The group hopes to renovate the building and add a single-story room with rooftop garden at the rear of the building. The estimated cost is $400,000 said Dania Flores, a Stone Soup member, and the nonprofit group will soon launch a capital campaign to raise the $280,000 to $300,000 it still needs.
Since the fire, the group has become a nonprofit 501c(3) organization and transferred ownership of the building from two of its members to the collective.
The collective hired YouthBuild as contractor for the project. YouthBuild takes mostly untrained workers, trains them on the job and prepares them for apprenticeship programs. They leave the job as soon as they find an apprenticeship, said Tim Tudor, YouthBuild Boston's superintendent for the Stone Soup project.
“It's going to be a fun training project,” Mr. Tudor said. He noted that the original structure was “incredibly well built.”
For some of the men doing the work, the program has been life-changing.
“I have two kids, 3 and 4, and I wanted to show them I can do something. I'm not a deadbeat,” said Marques Laura, 23, of Worcester. He never finished high school, but has a GED.
“Without YouthBuild, I'd still be doing the same thing.”
“Nothing,” said Terrell Taylor, 25, also of Worcester, who also has a GED and said he wasn't doing much of anything until he heard about YouthBuild.
On their first day, Mr. Laura said he heard they would be doing demolition and thought they would be knocking things down. “Then they told us it's like a puzzle,” he said. They and the rest of the crew, Andres Ventura and Eric Dettloff, both 21 and from Worcester, knocked out an unstable floor and are cleaning up the fire damage now.
The decision to work with YouthBuild seemed only natural, Ms. Flores said, after members of Stone Soup worked with Worcester Interfaith to support the city's responsible employer ordinance, which requires that contractors on many city projects have apprenticeship programs.
City assessors' records say the building, which includes intricate interior woodwork, was erected in 1920, but Mr. Tudor believes it dates to 1886. It has 4,735 square feet of living space, not including the nearly 2,000-square-foot basement, according to assessor's records.
The building was first a home, and later a funeral home, Mr. Tudor said. He hopes to find a photo of the building before it was covered in vinyl siding. Working from such a photo, he thinks he and his crew could replace the decorative shingles on the gables that they uncovered.
The restoration will include what Mr. Tudor called a “deep energy retrofit.” Improvements will make the building more energy efficient, use durable materials and comply with new building codes.
The old wiring, which Ms. Flores said caused the electrical fire, will be replaced and a sprinkler system installed. (A second fire started on the porch weeks after the first when someone fell asleep while smoking on the porch, she said.)
The project will make the building more energy efficient and accessible, with a ramp so wheelchairs can get to the first floor.
Mr. Tudor is looking at every detail. He found a match for the damaged front door lock on the Internet, he said, but it cost $535. Instead, he and his crew will repair the existing one.
Stone Soup member organizations include Earn-A-Bike, Worcester Roots Project, Ex-Prisoners and Prisoners Organizing for Community Advancement, Food Not Bombs, the Stone Soup Graphics Shop, Worcester Immigrant Coalition, Worcester Indymedia, Worcester Peace Works and YouthGROW. A free school once housed there has disbanded, and other groups have scattered. Some, however, are already planning their return to King Street, Ms. Flores said.
Stone Soup is inviting the public to a rebuilding ceremony from 1 to 3 p.m. July 25. Mr. Tudor will give tours and there will be speakers, food and music. For more information, go to www.stonesoupworcester.org.
In addition to YouthBuild, other partners include Shriver and Westover Job Corps centers, New England Carpenters Training Center, Carpenters Union Local 107, volunteer architect Peter Stevens, Rebuilding Together Worcester, Cooperative Fund of New England and Co-op Power.