JUNIATA TERRACE - It's been almost three months since fire ripped through a set of row homes in the Juniata Terrace Borough, and now one man is making an effort to help the community move forward into the future.
Dave Knox, of Granville Township, is the owner of seven of the 28 damaged homes in the 300 block of Terrace Boulevard.
"I wanted to do something because the Terrace to me is more than a housing area," Knox said. "It is an institution where multiple generations have been raised."
Sentinel photos by LAUREN?KERSHNER
Grease in the kitchen of 332 Terrace Boulevard, Juniata Terrace Borough, was the cause of the March 27 fire that ripped through the 300 block of the street. Seven of the homes that were damaged are being rebuilt with plans to make them better than they were before.
Knox said it was not always his plan to rebuild seven of the homes, but the willingness to rebuild even one of the homes sparked a chain reaction.
"When neighbors found out I was thinking about rebuilding, many came to me asking if I would buy their properties," Knox said. "While some had changed their minds, it was a chain reaction to what I now own."
Prior to the March 27 fire, Knox only owned the property at 342 Terrace Blvd. He said prior to the start of construction, the full extent of the structural damage was uncertain.
"There was plenty of testing that needed to be done simply to make sure the structure was still sound," he said. "Our initial thought before the testing was completed was that the damage would be less severe the further down the line we got."
Testing of the soundness of the structure showed that the remaining walls were sound and Knox said he then felt comfortable with moving forward.
"There would have been no point in completing the renovations if the structure was not sound," he said. "If that would have been the case, the whole section would have needed to be demolished completely then rebuilt from the ground up. At least we can use the existing structure to simply rebuild."
However, there is nothing simple about this project, Knox added. All seven homes needed to be gutted from top to bottom, because all suffered the same or similar damage.
"If the home was not damaged by the fire, it was damaged by smoke or water," Knox explained. "After testing we found that all of them would need to be gutted and stripped of almost everything."
Knox said the most important task contractors were charged with was the issue of the firewalls. He said the new firewalls will extend from top to bottom for each building and have a two-hour safety rating. But that does not mean the house(s) will not burn, Knox explained.
"What it means is that the fire could spread slower, giving people and pets more time to get out. It also gives first responders a (better) chance to put the fire out."
The seven homes will have new sidewalls, ceilings and other improvements to bring them into compliance with current building codes.
Knox said an innovative measure he has planned in these homes is to have an emergency exit that will be accessible from the basement.
"Prior to the fire, the family that was living there asked me if they could make the basement a third bedroom, and because of the lack of emergency exit I said 'no'," he said. "However, this system would allow the basement to be used in a capacity other than just for storage."
This emergency exit would be a plexiglas hatch that can be kicked out from the basement side. It will be wide enough to fit most people. This all goes back to having enough time and a means to escape a building that is on fire.
Knox said another plan is to bring in new designers to move away from the "cookie cutter" design scheme. He knows that this is going to be limited because of existing plumbing and electrical lines, but Knox wants more of a unique quality to come to the Terrace.
"I could make it easy and tell the designers I want this and have it the same," Knox said. "I want to see the Terrace better than it was before and as comfortable, safe and convenient as possible. This is a neighborhood I want to see more generations of families growing up in."
Knox said he is not doing the renovations for the money, but for what it means to the community.
"There has been such an outpouring of support from the borough and local community it has almost been overwhelming," he said. "I need the community to continue their support throughout the renovation process."
Knox said having the support from the community is what makes doing the renovations worthwhile.
"One lady, who lives across the street, came over to me and hugged me," he said. "While crying, she said 'Thank you so much for your work, I couldn't imagine sitting across the street and looking at the damage or a hole.' That is the recognition and support I want."
Knox said the renovations have been moving right along with contractors currently focusing on the ceilings and firewalls.
"My goal is to have most, if not all of the work completed in October," Knox explained. "And as of right now, we are moving along to reach that goal."