Left Justified: Construction, coffee and incarceration

My respect for people who rehab old buildings has increased exponentially to the amount of work we’re putting into the building at 201 Seventh St.

Rockford Urban Ministries (for which I work) will soon be leasing an office space and putting in a Fair Trade Store at this “gateway” to Seventh Street.

We are just kitty corner from Chantilly Lace and down the street from Executive Lingerie—not conducive to church-oriented mission gift sales, but a neighborhood that needs some fair trading.

This building at 201 Seventh, formerly Hedrick Electric, then Aden’s, one of the worst package liquor stores in the city, will soon be a shining example of what urban development can be. That is, of course, if we can get through the construction.

Our architect, the excellent Dick Hynes, has donated the plans for the layout of a small office, two accessible bathrooms (that can also be used as changing rooms), a break area, a meeting space and the Fair Trade Store space. But the rules of rehabbing an old building means cost, money, cash, lots of time, labor and materials. And did I mention the money?

I can see why people just say “screw it” to remodeling old structures and move to a corn field and build new. This rehab business is tricky, and there’s not much help. At least not for us non-profits. Now if I want to put in condominiums, then City Hall seems willing to bend over and kiss developers.

Problems abound with hiring contractors and working with volunteers who each come in with different ideas. We have been blessed with those volunteers, both lay and professional. They will keep the costs down, but the anxiety level is still high. We hope that construction will be finished by summer of this year.

Speaking of construction, Rockford Urban Ministries will get an update about the construction of the new jail. Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen has been invited to tell the public how the construction’s been going, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 7 p.m., at Second Congregational Church, 318 N. Church St. (Use the lower east-side entrance.) RUM supports alternative projects and hopes the programs will continue and expand in the upcoming years.

We’ve also invited Frank Ware from Janet Wattles Mental Health Center to talk about keeping people out of jail that just need a little support. RUM fears the steel and concrete costs of the new jail will suck up money for the alternative programs. It’d be a shame to have to build another jail in 10 or 20 years.

On a completely different subject, Julia Jones, mission outreach from First Presbyterian Church, will talk about her experiences in the troubled state of Chiapas, Mexico (Monday, Feb. 20, 7:30 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 4848 Turner St.). She went to Chiapas to learn about the effects of NAFTA and globalization on the region. She saw firsthand the growing militarization of the area (the Mexican army vs. the Indian guerrillas, just like the wild West). Julia will tell us where our coffee comes from, the painstaking process of coffee bean production. She’ll explain firsthand how the coffee is picked and brought to your cup every morning. There will be fair-traded coffee (which means the Mexican Indians got a good price) available at that meeting for your purchase. The coffee is also organic (no pesticides) and “shade grown” (which means trees were not cut down, allowing birds to survive). It does enhance the flavor of the coffee.

And I like my coffee strong in the morning as I sit in the middle of my construction site.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

From the Feb. 15-21, 2006, issue

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