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    VRF the Comfort Solution for Renovated Community Building

    May 5, 2020
    The building now known as Declaration House in Denver, Pa., was converted from its days as a hotel and saloon, to new stature as a community refuge.

    Last year, Kalisha Stevens’ life hung on a string – well, actually it was a pneumatic pump known as an “L-VAD,” for “left ventricular assist device,” connected to her heart.  She’s now out of the hospital and on a list for a heart transplant.  Though, while the L-VAD rhythmically pumped blood for her heart while in a critical care unit, essential bloodflow was only one of her concerns. 

    As a single mother of two delightful twins – Myra and Ameera, aged 8, both of whom mean the entire world to her – Kalisha knew that her savings were dissolving by the minute. She needed to survive if only to provide a home, and a mother’s love, for her girls.

    Little did Kalisha know that events unfolding nearby would help to build a foundation for her and the girls.  

    Denver House
    For many years, a big ol’ three-story building in downtown Denver, PA – once a bustling saloon and hotel known as Denver House – had become the community’s festering blight.  The drug-infested structure had become home turf for all type and variety of crime. 

    Denver House was built in 1863 as a hotel and bar; it was once the hallmark of Denver. Rod Redcay, mayor of the town and executive director of REAL Life Community Services, a faith-based non-profit, said that, “Back in the day, it was the most beautiful building in our community.” 

    “Like so many buildings of its kind, Denver House was later remodeled into a boarding house with 22 living units.  The bar remained,” Redcay added.  “For decades, conditions worsened.   Ultimately, it became the source of our highest police call volume.  The owner eventually checked out, leaving unpaid mortgage, taxes, trash and fueloil.  We knew we had to do something.”

    Redcay and others formed a non-profit LLC, purchasing the building at a tax sale in 2016.  A grant from the borough to acquire the structure, intended as transitional housing for those in need, inaugurated an effort that’s since become a model for other communities to follow. 

    Initial projections for renovations put the cost at $1.7 million, though costs climbed to $3.5 million as the extent of work, and vision for improvements, grew. REAL Life Community Services, a non-profit organization that helps youth and at-risk families, had big plans for the building.  

    After the purchase of Denver House and its three-acre property, remaining tenants were cared for and connected to various community resources; all were relocated. Then, the work began: 250 volunteers emptied the structure of its trash, a volume of filth that required about 30 large dumpsters. Meanwhile, Redcay and others went to many local businesses and institutions for help, eventually raising more than $400,000 for renovations there.  They also appealed to the state, receiving $2 million more. 

    Initial projections for renovations put the cost at $1.7 million, though costs climbed to $3.5 million as the extent of work, and vision for improvements, grew. REAL Life Community Services, a non-profit organization that helps youth and at-risk families, had big plans for the building.  

    Declaration House
    Redcay fondly recalls an occurrence during a meeting in 2014 in which he and six local pastors gathered to talk about and pray for transformation in the community.  “We sought to transform the worst, darkest part of the community, to make a public statement for God.  One of the pastors, praying aloud, said, ‘We need to make this house a declaration for You.’ We quickly realized we had a name for the project – Declaration House. 

    “And it was as if all heaven broke loose in the capital campaign,” he added.  Not long after that, Scott Leid, CFO of Ephrata National Bank, became chairman of the capital campaign.         

    Through 2016, ’17 and ’18, work happened steadily as the structure was gradually emptied, dismantled and rebuilt, nearly doubling its size to 22,000 square feet.  Declaration House is now home to ten apartments (with one or two bedrooms), social service office, a medical/dental/behavioral health counseling center and a 1,500 square foot organic foods grocery store.   

    An HVAC Solution
    Vince Youndt, president of Stevens, PA-based Vertex Mechanical, explained that he and Rob Redcay were buddies in school, and had graduated high school together in ‘89.  “I’ve kept in touch with Rod ever since. Shortly after he became mayor of Denver, he told me about his vision for the building," Youndt said.

    Not long after that, the two spoke about plumbing and HVAC solutions for the structure, all eventually handled professionally by Vertex experts.   

    “Our biggest challenge was to find a way to cost-effectively provide heating and cooling for residents, common areas and the retail and medical services spaces,” added Youndt.   

    With one 24,000 BTU condenser, ten 18,000 BTU condensers, and one 12,000 BTU condenser – all mounted on a flat roof atop the Declaration House – they were able to heat and cool the entire structure. 

    “Initially, we looked at installing a large furnace coupled with split systems for air conditioning,” explained Youndt. “With some difficulty, chiefly with ducting, we could’ve made it work, but it was overly-complicated, and residents would have no way to equitably pay for their own utilities. We recalibrated the plan, switching to high efficiency Fujitsu mini-split heat pumps to meet the need.”

    Youndt added that with one 24,000 BTU condenser, ten 18,000 BTU condensers, and one 12,000 BTU condenser – all mounted on a flat roof atop the Declaration House – they were able to heat and cool the entire structure. 

    Installation Solutions
    One of Youndt’s head-scratchers was the need to reduce the cost of providing an HVAC solution there.  After some discussions with designers and technicians, they came up with ways to simplify the installation of Fujitsu’s ARU behind-the-wall air handlers – used for many of the apartments (some wall-hung units were also used).

    “We developed a recipe that we could replicate for all of the living units,” said Youndt.  “We had eight-inch wall thicknesses to work with, and fortunately a lot of similarity between the size and makeup of the living spaces.  Our installation crews knew that time was of the essence, but that there was to be no compromise to quality, durability and reliability.”

    Affordable Comfort
    “Before we moved into Declaration House, I lived in two single-bedroom apartments, both of which weren’t very comfortable, and each cost a lot more for electric utilities,” said Kalisha.  “Here, I pay all utilities with an average of $50 a month for electric, year-round.  We’ve been here for summer months, and now winter – and it’s very comfortable; the girls and I are3 very happy about that.”   

    Today, Kalisha Stevens, Myra and Ameera, live in comfort in their two-bedroom apartment on the second floor of Declaration House.  Kalisha and her daughters live a relatively stress-free life, affordably.  The girls are getting a fine education, her budget works, and they enjoy the blessings of a great church family.  So now, as Kalisha completes her preparations for transplant heart candidacy, everything else is in place.  And that’s a blessing indeed.