AUGUSTA — For Roger Mackbach, the hardest part of fixing up a 130-year-old vacant building that was declared unsafe for occupancy and taken by the city for nonpayment of taxes isn’t the physical labor involved, even for someone like him who only has one hand.

It isn’t even the need to obtain building materials on the cheap because money is tight.

Instead, the hardest part, Mackbach said, is doing all that while also maintaining the rest of your life. For him that means keeping up with classes and homework as a full-time student at the University of Maine at Augusta, being a dad to his children, and now with help from friends and family, turning the former apartment building at 110 Northern Ave. in Augusta into a home.

“It has been very stressful being in college full-time, working here full-time, and being a dad full-time,” Mackbach said while standing in the basement of the home. “Homework has been difficult.”

As he talked about the project, an oil tank that needs to be installed to replace a leaky tank stood to one side of him. On the other side was a three-foot-high pile of wood shavings that had been left under a planer used to clean up relatively cheap, rough-cut boards for use in the remodeling project.

One area on which Mackbach has done his homework, he and city officials said, is in making sure the work he and his volunteer helpers are doing is done right and up to city-enforced building safety codes.

“He visited us quite a number of times asking code-related questions,” said Rob Overton, a city code enforcement officer. “He seems to be really cautious about making sure he’s doing things correctly. In most instances, it seems like the work he’s doing is more than the minimum requirements of the building code.”

Mackbach said while he is renovating the building as a home for his family, he’s also doing it up to codes that would allow it eventually to be turned back into an apartment building. He said city officials have been helpful in telling him what needs to be done.

NO TAKERS — AT FIRST

The city had a structurally deficient barn on the property torn down after it foreclosed on the property. The small barn that was attached to the home, which at the time was a two-unit apartment building housing five residents, was damaged by fire in 2014, and the tenants were ordered out of the apartment building out of concern the barn could have collapsed.

The city took the property for nonpayment of taxes by the previous owner in February 2015.

The city paid $8,900 to have the barn demolished, according to minutes of the city’s Real Estate Owned Committee, which decides what to do with properties acquired by the city usually for nonpayment of taxes.

Over the next two years the city tried multiple ways of getting rid of the 110 Northern Ave. property. The city tried to give the property to the Augusta Housing Authority, which declined it. The city also tried selling it at a public auction but received no bids. A sealed bid process also drew no bidders.

Finally Mackbach, a neighbor to the property, made a $4,000 offer for it. Councilors voted unanimously in July to sell it to him if he met conditions attached to the sale.

Completion of the sale by the city was contingent on conditions including building renovations beginning within six months of purchase, issuance of a certificate of occupancy within 18 months, development of no additional parking on the property, and the buyer showing proof of financial ability to complete the project. If any of those conditions aren’t met, the property would revert to the city’s ownership.

Mackbach notes with pride that he and his friends and family helping on the work secured a building permit within seven days of the sale and a certificate of occupancy in just 70 days.

Mackbach, who lost his right arm in a boating accident in 2006, said his main helpers on the project have been his 14-year-old son, RJ, and his friend and fellow UMA student Donald, who is disabled with a bad back and knees.

“So, two handicapped guys are working on the house and getting it done,” Mackbach said. “I’m doing what I’m able to do one-handed. The biggest thing with that is you do a lot of problem-solving on how to do something that takes two hands. A lot of things you have to do differently. I get frustrated sometimes, knowing what needs to be done and how to do it, but not being able to do it because some things just take two hands. But I haven’t gone into too many things in my life I can’t do because I’m one-handed. I never give up.”

Mackbach said his son RJ has done a lot of good work on the project, and he challenges his son to do some of his own problem-solving and figure out how to do some of the work on the house himself.

Mackbach, a senior at UMA and founder of Help for Others, an organization that helps people overcome adversity, expects to graduate in May with a bachelor of applied science degree and three minors in computer science.

‘A WIN FOR EVERYBODY’

When the attached barn was removed from the two-story home, it essentially left the home without a back exterior wall.

Mackbach and his helpers have built a new back wall, and he plans to eventually put a deck on that side of the house. Other work which needed to be done included adding a set of stairs with a handrail and repairing the heating system which, left unwinterized while the house was unoccupied, had multiple leaking, broken pipes.

Mackbach said they’ve used lots of salvaged materials and the cheapest lumber they could find, buying utility grade wood and using the planer to make it more like finish-quality wood which would be more expensive to buy.

He figures he, Donald, RJ and other helpers have put about 400 hours of labor into the project so far, averaging 40 to 50 hours a week.

He just moved into the first floor of the home, where he’ll live until renovations to the second floor are complete and his family joins him in the home, including RJ, and his seven-month-old son, Thomas. Later his fiancee and her three children, who now live next door, will join them.

He said he has installed security cameras in the home out of concerns about the neighborhood and that someone might try to break in. He said the roof will need replacement in a couple of years, but is OK for now. The furnace may also be on its last legs, but after troubleshooting the heating system, it works. He said the foundation appears to be structurally sound.

The 0.46-acre property, returned to the property tax rolls, is assessed by the city for tax purposes at $62,900. The home was built, according to city assessing records, in 1886.

Overton said it is relatively rare for buildings ordered vacated by the city for being unsafe and non-compliant with building codes to undergo repairs, be brought up to code and be reoccupied.

“Unfortunately, we have not seen many of the buildings we’ve had to order vacated because they were unsafe come back,” Overton said. “Some of the buildings I have closed are still closed, boarded up and they’re contributing to blight. If we can get one that was closed fixed up and reoccupied, that’s a win for everybody.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj