Path muddy but hopes still high for West End ministry’s move

jwise@newsobserver.comJanuary 17, 2014 

— PathWays’s pathway was mostly mud, but its leaders were hopeful that the Duke Chapel ministry’s West End home would complete its journey by week’s end.

All 500 feet, and 3,127 square feet, of it.

PathWays is a program in which four to six recent Duke graduates spend a year living and working in the low-income West End neighborhood between West Campus and downtown Durham. Since 2006, it has occupied a four-bedroom house at 1115 W. Chapel Hill St. – future site of Durham Central Market in Self-Help’s Kent Corner development.

The house itself, and PathWays’ presence, are important to West End’s residents, so Self-Help is paying to have it moved from one corner of the Kent Corner property to another – down a slope, around a corner, up another slope and across a stretch of ground, all of which, last week, were the consistency of sticky, icky goo.

“I can’t imagine the mud helps,” said Bruce Puckett, Duke Chapel’s director of community ministry.

Puckett and Christy Lohr Sapp, associate dean of the chapel, were watching through the fog Wednesday morning as a crew with Wolfe House and Building Movers from Bernville, Pa. secured the house onto self-propelled dollies. In the distance, an excavation crane was moving dirt to prepare the house’s new lot, and a bulldozer and piles of fine gravel stood in between for smoothing and securing the route of transit.

An important symbol

Kent Corner is an office-retail project on a 2.7-acre tract at the corner of Kent and West Chapel Hill streets. Self-Help, the Durham community-uplift nonprofit, has made large investments in the West End area over several years, and hopes the project will catalyze revival in the depressed business district along Chapel Hill Street.

“When we started talking about this project with people in the community and the PathWays program, they all felt pretty strongly that the house itself, physically, was a pretty important symbol,” said Micah Kordsmeier, the Kent Corner project manager.

The house, he said, represents a transformation the area has undergone.

It had been “kind of a sore” and “a blight,” a rooming house infamous for drug dealing, police calls and dilapidation, Puckett said.

“We’ve had folks come through and have meals with us who said, ‘I remember coming in the house before you all had changed it around and watching people smoke and sniff lines (of cocaine), that kind of stuff,” he said.

Once rehabilitated and occupied by outsiders who come to join the community as neighbors, the house became something valuable, he said.

Quality of life

PathWays was established about 10 years ago, largely through efforts by former Duke Chapel Dean Sam Wells, and invited to set up in the house by neighborhood groups in West End – part of Duke’s Quality of Life project in depressed communities near its campus.

The program, Puckett said, is intended to help young people who have just graduated from the university “think about what their calling in life is ... in terms of their whole life.

“A lot of what we believe is true about being a Christian is being a good neighbor, and being a good neighbor in a particular place. ... We try to teach them what it's like to walk down your streets and try to build relationships when people are out on their porches and also to engage folks who are likely from different socioeconomic backgrounds than you,” Puckett said.

“We just really like that sort of message and wanted to see it stay there,” said Kordsmeier. He declined to say how much the house move is costing Self-Help, but said it’s not “dramatically more expensive ... than to build them something new.”

Once the house is moved and set on its new foundations, it will be several weeks before its residents and staff can move back in, said Sapp, the associate Chapel Dean. The interior needs extensive repairs, after vandals broke in and stole metal pipe while it was vacant pending the move. In the meantime, the PathWays Fellows are living in apartments in Walltown, she said, and being “really great through ... having their lives uprooted.”

Expectations are to have a re-opening celebration in March, she said.

Originally, said Sapp, the plan was to move the house a couple of blocks farther, to Gerard Street. That, though, would have required moving it along the streets instead of just across Self-Help’s property.

“The logistics, because the house is so large ... became untenable,” she said. “Stopping traffic would be such a pain.”

Plans were, also, to have the house move done and finished in one day. Weather and site conditions intervened, and after several hours’ work Wednesday morning the house-movers called things off until Friday. Puckett and Sapp headed back to their offices after a few last looks at the house, up on its wheels, and the muddy way ahead.

“I just can’t imagine,” Sapp said, “what they’re going to do if this thing gets stuck.”


Wise: 919-641-5895

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