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Community couple

Pair look to revitalize city

April 8, 2012
By RODNEY MINOR , The Leader Herald

GLOVERSVILLE - While the building at 24 Prospect Ave. may be blue, a walk around back shows it has actually gone "green."

Clearly visible on the roof are the solar panels for a 2.5 kilowatt grid-tied photovoltaic system and hot water for one of the two apartments.

The solar panels - along with plenty of other improvements to the building - are the work of Jim Strickland and his partner, Laurie Freeman.

Article Photos

Laurie Freeman and Jim?Strickland, who own the building at 24 Prospect Ave. in Gloversville and are rehabbing it, are shown.
The Leader-Herald/Rodney Minor

For the couple, who live in a home in Meco that is off the grid, this is the latest project that allows them to do some things they enjoy: preserve a building with some history, offer someone else a chance to live more sustainably, and play a role in revitalizing the city and community they love.

"Most people look at what we've done and say, 'I could never do that,'" Strickland said. "We always say, 'Maybe not exactly, but you can learn the techniques and use them on your own projects.'"

Strickland, 60, and Freeman, 50, first came to the area in the mid-1980s to visit the Great Sacandaga Lake, where a friend had a camp.

For Freeman, an associate professor of science at Fulton-Montgomery Community College, part of the appeal was the area reminded her of where she grew up in Rhode Island.

However, both fell in love with the city's downtown. Strickland noted how it had escaped urban renewal with its Victorian architecture relatively intact.

"We were not put off by the fact it was not the best of times," he said, referring to the city's economic struggles.

Freeman said there are negative things and positive things that happen in every community. The key is to focus on the positive things, she said, and put work in to make the community the sort of place you want to live in.

"I believe in making the community a place you want to live in; you need to be a part of it," Freeman said.

Strickland, who has been doing remodeling or new construction work on buildings for 40 years, noted a theme to the projects they have been involved in: building.

The couple spent 10 years on the board of Habitat for Humanity of Fulton County, helping people in need build their homes.

While there, the couple met people involved in renovating the Glove Theatre. They joined in, working on the heating system and the floor. They worked on rebuilding the orchestra pit and stage. Laurie even sewed the grand drape, which has 28-foot-long seams, in the theater.

During the years they spent working on the theater, they met former City Court Judge Vincent DeSantis. That led to the couple being among the volunteers who helped build the pavilion for the Gloversville Farmers Market.

Strickland said that is a project that worked particularly well. He noted how the market has grown from being a couple of vendors, when it used to occupy Rail Station Park, to having close to a dozen vendors every week, with live music and sometimes activities for children.

"We have a great farmers market now," he said.

While working on the pavilion, Strickland and Freeman met other people who were interested in establishing a food co-op. They would be among the small group that created the Mohawk Harvest Cooperative Market, which is located in the Schine-Memorial Hall.

Of course, that resulted in the couple being among the investors who formed Schine-Memorial Hall LLC and took control of the building late last year. It is a building with a long history, going back to 1881, which needed some serious repairs.

Their latest personal project - at 24 Prospect Ave. - is somewhat similar.

In 2008, the couple bought the building, which was in foreclosure, for $44,000. While the interior of the house was a quite a mess cosmetically, the building was structurally sound and close to downtown and had great solar potential.

The building and Schine-Memorial Hall both have excellent examples of the Victorian architecture the couple loves, giving them a chance to preserve some architectural history.

The challenge, Strickland said, is to "bring Victorian architecture into the 21st century without destroying its character."

Strickland said as civilization progresses, people seem to forget the past. In building their off-the-grid house, he said, they milled the wood themselves out of trees on their property. That necessitated using something other than standard construction techniques on most houses now, so they had to go with older construction methods.

"It's part of seeing what's been forgotten, then bringing it back to see how it can be helpful now," he said.

Freeman said many older buildings also have unique characteristics and attributes because they were made before a time when building methods were so standardized.

"It gives [a building] character," she said.

Both their home and latest project also demonstrate their interest in sustainability and using a minimum amount of resources.

The couple began construction on their home in 1997 and moved into the unfinished home in 2003. Their home on McGregor Road has four wells on the property to provide the couple with water. Two large solar panels provide electricity and hot water, except in the coldest months, when a wood-burning stove does the job. The entire front of the house faces south and is one big window, allowing the home to catch copious heat from the sun. A greenhouse-type room at the front of the house gathers the hot air, which is then released into the home through windows and doors.

In addition to what is on the roof at 24 Prospect?Ave., the couple did plenty of work on the inside. They added new interior walls with blown-in insulation, which allowed them to preserve the original woodworking around the windows.

Two new high-efficiency furnaces also were added, along with an on-demand natural gas water heater and the solar panels for their respective systems.

Strickland said sustainability is important, not only for future generations and people now, but for maintaining the environment.

"We are not alone on the planet," he said. "Lots of other creatures cohabitate with us."

Freeman said they are always open to talking about their projects with people, to share what they have learned to help others.

However, both of them stressed they among a group of people who have tried to help revitalize the city.

"It's not just us," Freeman said.

The Rev. Ralp S. English of the First?Congregational United Church of Christ also is in the group that purchased Schine-Memorial Hall.

English said the couple is clearly devoted to the community and sustainability, while having the positive attitudes the community needs.

"That enthusiasm can be contagious," English said.

Dave Smalley, who has known Strickland and Freeman for 15 years, said when some other people are filled with negativity about the city, Strickland and Freeman are among the few "bright lights" who stay positive.

"Regardless of what occurs and whatever or whoever they are talking about, they are always positive and upbeat," he said.

Smalley, a Gloversville native who lives in?Glen, said the couple has an "almost endless" body of knowledge they are willing to share with anyone who asks.

"[They are] people who are willing to give their experience and knowledge, free for the taking," he said. "They just give and give and give."

The couple plans to have the first floor at 24 Prospect Ave. finished and ready for a new tenant in June. Then, they will go to work on the exterior, including painting with authentic Victorian-era colors.

For more information about Freeman and Strickland's homesteading work, articles Strickland wrote about their experiences can be viewed online at www.OEIC.us

 
 

 

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