Wish for 'Extreme Makeover: Historic Home Edition'

The following was a Guest Editorial written for the Lansing State Journal. It appeared in the October 10, 2008 edition of the paper:

Now that the exciting week surrounding "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" has ended, perhaps we can comment on the project's broader implications. Clearly, the publicity and the goodwill generated by the project were beneficial.

The Nickless family received a well-deserved vacation and, following a generous outpouring of community effort, they are now in possession of a new house. The Lansing area and the local construction "partners" in particular, will benefit from the increased awareness and publicity this project provided.

However, I believe that an opportunity was missed. Prior to the arrival of the exuberant Extreme Team, a 140-year-old brick Italianate farmhouse stood on the project site.

According to the press, the old home was a dream for the owners, and they had intended to restore it. That being the case, would it not have been more appropriate to save the home, possibly constructing appropriate additions to provide the necessary modern amenities?

As a restoration architect, I fully appreciate the difficulties associated with historic buildings. Plaster walls and finished floors complicate the necessary access to electrical lines, plumbing pipes and mechanical runs. Unseen conditions, which always seem to accompany restoration projects, are difficult to predict and can be exceedingly expensive. Simply put, historic homes, especially those as old as this one - constructed before the Civil War - come with issues.

However, we cannot accept the supposition that since "the wiring was bad" and "the basement flooded," the entire home had to be scuttled.

In truth, "Extreme Makeover" probably would not have selected the Holt project if the house had to be retained. The constraints related to existing buildings cannot be forced into the artificial parameters of a television show. A restoration project probably could not have been completed in the allotted time. It would not provide the "big reveal" required for the show.

And so, in exchange for the novelty of building an entire house in one week, the old house was destroyed and carted off to a dump.

As a community, we not only allowed this, we encouraged it. Apparently placing so little value on our heritage and unique architectural character, we supported the exchange of a grand old home for an oversized, ubiquitous building.

Associates of mine attended the final reveal and witnessed a grateful family, thankful for their gains while mourning their recent loss.

I certainly wish them well there. I only wish we could have done more for them and for the community. For all that was gained, a grand opportunity was lost.

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