Habitat project hits snag

Governors' wives worked hard to help bring housing project along.

By Annette C. Silva


Carl Sowell is grateful for "the first house we've ever had." It has taken longer than anyone anticipated to get the new home ready for its occupants, but the 39-year-old disabled father of two and his wife Teresa are humbled by the help they've received from Habitat for Humanity workers, including five state governors' wives.
"When the governors' wives were here [from Delaware, Oklahoma, Arkansas, North Carolina and Georgia], they really worked - they were putting up siding and shingles - they worked hard," said Sowell. The snag came after they left.
The house was built on property bought by Habitat from Lee Littleton. Things were going well, said former Habitat president Ernie Elsassar, until it was time to hook up the property's sewer line to the street.
The survey didn't reveal the absence of a direct, separate sewer line for this lot going perpendicular to Hall Street, Elsassar said of the 215 S. Hall St. site where a former house, since burned down, had stood.
When they couldn't locate a sewer line by digging with shovels, Habitat workers realized they would have to call in a company with the necessary equipment for heavy-duty digging.
"There aren't too many companies in this area with that kind of equipment," said Elsassar.
They called on Hopkins Construction Company, Bridgeville, which gave them an estimate of $11,500. That estimate included installing a new sewer line requiring deep trenches and reinforcement walls, keeping with OSHA regulations.
Hopkins workers dug through the back yard in areas where they thought a sewer line from the street might be located, not finding one. "A job that should have taken part of a day ended up taking a day and a half," said Kevin Pritchett, vice president of Hopkins.

They finally found a lateral line, located between neighbor Jean Crater's and Sowell's homes on the Sowell property, running parallel to the property line. (This is the sewer line that is connected to the Crater home and that connects to a line located at the back of both properties leading in from Budd Street.) Discovery of that line led to a terra cotta diagonal connecting line running to Sowell's house.
"Initially we were told we couldn't hook up to the lateral line because of OSHA regulations," said Elsassar, at that time believing Hopkins would perhaps be installing a new, deep line.
In the end it was decided between the city and Habitat that they would use the existing line.
Habitat folks still weren't assured that this would be the final solution. "Someone from the city told us this was a temporary measure," said Elsassar.
City manager Dolores Slatcher says, "That's the way it's going to stay unless someone complains."
"We'll leave it as it is," agreed director of public works Joe Santos, who said neighbor Jean Crater has no problem with it. Santos says the line is efficient.
"The line that connects to the street is 6 inches in diameter so there's no problem," he said.
Unfortunately, Santos said, some of the old lines were put in 50 or more years ago when terra cotta pipes were installed. "There were almost no regulations or markings back then."
At this point (early January), Habitat members thought they would end up absorbing half of the Hopkins Construction final bill (which had been reduced to $10,000) and tacking the other $5,000 onto Sowell's mortgage, thereby extending it. This, for a family already financially distressed, was not a happy situation to contemplate.
Carl Sowell, a former customer relations representative, received a severe electric shock on the job and has undergone seven back surgeries, one stomach operation and two heart attacks. He can stand for only 10 minutes at a time.
His wife Teresa works; son Dion, 14, and daughter Latasha, 8, are enrolled in Seaford schools.
Sowell, who remains optimistic, says, "I'm a man of God and have faith that things will work out."
Sowell's faith was rewarded. On Jan. 7, when Habitat treasurer Norman Westin called Hopkins' Kevin Pritchett, Pritchett offered to cut his company's bill in half, giving everyone a break.
"We are enormously appreciative of Mr. Pritchett and Hopkins Construction Company's willingness to do this ," said Westin.
"Essentially it means the Sowells' mortgage won't need to be extended nor will their $250 monthly payments have to be increased. It's a happy ending."
The Habitat for Humanity Women's Build dedication ceremony is scheduled for Jan. 23 at 2 p.m. at the home on South Hall Street.
"Gov. Carper's wife won't be there, but she is sending a representative," said Elsassar. "Many of the Habitat for Humanity workers will be there."