Fresh walls and renewed community

Members of a Marcy condo association come together to spruce up their building—and solidify relationships

As eager buyers flock to purchase condos in the many projects going up in the riverfront neighborhoods, they are no doubt attracted by the marketers’ siren song of carefree living in a glamorous city setting.

But what they should remember is that while purchasing a condo has distinct financial advantages over paying rent, it also entails a significant amount of financial risk and responsibility. The projects that people are buying into today are shiny and new, but down the road they’re going to need regular upkeep, and residents are going to need to work together to maintain the quality of their homes and the security of their investments.

At the St. Anthony Condominiums at 333 SE 8th Street in Marcy-Holmes, residents faced this issue when they realized that their 33-year-old, 60-unit building needed interior repainting in preparation for new carpets and hardware fixtures. Becky Boschert, building manager, said that when they solicited bids for the project, the quote they received was $60,000, well beyond what association members could afford.

“In the past six years,” she said, “we’ve had special assessments for siding, for the roof, for windows, and we just didn’t feel like we could ask our residents to pay more.” When the five-member governing board met to discuss the problem, one member suggested that the resident-owners get together and do the work themselves. The suggestion was overwhelmingly approved at the association’s annual meeting in April.

That’s when Boschert and building caretakers Carol and John Kohlberg got busy planning the project. None of the residents were painting or decorating experts, but people mobilized to take the steps needed to get the job going. One committee started researching paint colors and brands, and they found that one resident, Scott Cooper, had a work contact who manufactured paint and offered the association a great price on high-quality paint—“the stuff Hirschfield’s sells,” Boschert says.

That committee worked with a decorator at Hirschfield’s to pinpoint color choices, and at their next meeting, board members walked the halls, paint chips in hand, to decide which colors to use. “We had some discussion and then we voted,” said Boschert. Some people liked the winning colors better than others did, she said, “but it was a committee vote, and no one complained.”

With the colors decided, it was time to get to work, so Boschert signed up volunteers. “I just put out sign-up sheets and people signed up for when they could. I had different shifts and I had different jobs listed. Some people didn’t want to paint, but they could tape, or they could clean up. It evolved as we went along,” she said.

Because the building is home to a wide variety of residents, people found different ways to help out, based on their abilities. “We have people who are handicapped, who are elderly, who have health problems of every stripe, and we have young able-bodied people, and the vast majority of us are somewhere in the middle,” Boschert said. “We found that the people who were willing and able to paint didn’t mind who did and didn’t help. It was all for the good of the community and if you couldn’t do anything, that was OK. But the people who weren’t physically able to paint did things like make sure we had cold water, and worked on quality control. There’s was always something to do.”

Work began on the third floor; residents wanted to finished the higher floors before the summer got too hot. Laundry rooms were converted to paint shops and residents painted whenever they could: weekdays, weeknights, and weekends, depending on their schedules. “I painted for 12 to 14 hours every Saturday and Sunday, as well as four to five hours after work each day,” said Boschert, who works full time at the school of dentistry at the University of Minnesota.

The association also got some significant help from the members of the Macalester College women’s volleyball team. Coach Steph Schleuder is the president of the association board, and she was able to recruit members of the team to work as painters. “Of course they had to be paid,” Boschert said, “but they were so happy with a low wage and free food.”

Like all home repair projects, the job took longer than expected. Work began right after Memorial Day, and after six weeks of hard work, ladders, blowing fans, taped walls, drop cloths, and a building full of paint smells, the job was finally finished. That’s when the carpet and light fixtures could go in, though residents left that work to professionals.

Boschert estimates that all together, doing the work themselves saved residents approximately $40,000, as painting supplies cost $20,000, which was paid for out of association funds. The savings meant that residents got a freshly painted building without any special assessments, and as an added bonus, their yearly association dues won’t have to be raised as usual this coming January. Residents who helped out with the project also got a reduction in their dues for August.

But according to the residents involved, another huge benefit of the project was a strengthened sense of community. Resident Jeff Sekhon said that before the painting job, he had kept to himself. “I’m kind of antisocial, so I didn’t know people before this project,” he said. Resident Carol Roos concurred, saying that working together brought people together in new ways. “When you’re standing next to each other painting for four hours, you get to talking,” she said.

And even though not everyone in the association helped out, Boschert said, everyone benefited, and that was the goal. “We’re trying to get more into the thought process of ‘we are a community, and what benefits you, benefits me,’ and vice versa,” she said. “So we had just decided, let’s do what we can do to make it good on our limited budget.”

Altogether, more than half of the residents participated in some way. “We did have people who weren’t interested in helping, and that’s OK,” said Boschert. Some residents suggested a system whereby people who didn’t help with labor would pay money, but Boschert wasn’t interested in that. “That would have required me to be a timekeeper, and that just seemed too regimented,” she said. “It kind of defeats the whole purpose of getting together to paint our building and make it beautiful.”

Would Boschert recommend the St. Anthony model to other condo associations? She thought carefully before responding, “Yes . . . if you have people who are willing to be supportive of one another and keep the goal in mind and put egos aside. I can see where it could be very awkward, but we had none of that here.”

The end result is a freshly redecorated building at an affordable price with a renewed spirit of community to boot. “We just needed to find a way to have a nice home and be able to keep within our personal budgets, so I think it was a fabulous idea,” said Boschert. “And we did a really good job.”

last revised: October 30, 2006