BIDDEFORD — For years, the home at 471 Main St. sat empty, the paint peeling and roof leaking.

The long-abandoned property – acquired by the city through unpaid back taxes – soon will be back on the market after an extensive two-year rehabilitation by teenage students from the Biddeford Regional Center of Technology and members of the Biddeford-Saco Rotary Club.

On Tuesday, baskets of fresh purple flowers hung from the front porch of the newly renovated home. The inside of the three-bedroom house, built in the early 1900s, smelled of fresh paint and cut wood. Outside, a group of four students measured, cut and hung siding on the garage they built. It’s one of the final few projects that students need to finish before the tidy blue house is sold.

The Rotarians and students will show off the transformation during an open house Wednesday morning. The house – nearly complete except for some finishing details – likely will be listed for sale within two weeks.

“It was very, very tired,” Wayne Hapgood, a center of technology instructor, said of how the house appeared at the start of the project. “It wasn’t doing anything for the neighborhood or the community.”

The newly renovated version, with wood floors, tile and a bright kitchen, is expected to sell in the mid-$200,000 price range.


The transformation is remarkable, not just in terms of the appearance of the house, but also in how the unusual project brought students together with experienced tradesmen to work on a project to benefit the community, according to the students, educators and Rotarians.

“To be able to help, it’s a good thing. I’m lucky to be involved,” said Joe Gamage, a 17-year-old first-year student in the building trades program. “It’s pretty cool to see how we can do it and all work together.”

Jim Godbout, the Rotarian who organized the project, said he approached the Biddeford City Council two years ago about donating a house after talking to other local tradesmen about the lack of young, skilled workers entering the trades. The Rotary has supported the center of technology for more than 20 years, largely through a program in which students build modular homes in the parking lot behind the center. The students learned basic construction skills, but they weren’t learning all of the skills they could put to use when they go to work in the outside world, Godbout said.

“We saw this need out there to change their skill sets,” he said. “Remodeling a home creates a different way of thinking. They have to problem-solve.”

The City Council donated the house to Rotary to use for the program. It has since donated a second house, also on Main Street near the school, for the same purpose. When the Rotary club sells the homes, the city will be reimbursed for back taxes and unpaid sewer fees. Rotary will use proceeds from the sale of the first house to support the center of technology and the second home renovation project. Local businesses and individuals have made about $70,000 worth of in-kind donations for the project.

“It’s a win-win for everyone. The school is able to provide students an environment for learning trades, and we’re able to put a property back on the tax rolls,” Godbout said. “We’re also building community and getting people to work together who have never worked together before.”


Paulette Bonneau, director of the center of technology, said the project involved about 28 students from several different programs. Engineering students redesigned the layout of the house, electrical students did the wiring, and students in the new plumbing and heating program got hands-on experience when the house was gutted down to the studs.

It involved students from across northern York County. Students at the center of technology come from Biddeford High School, Old Orchard Beach High School, Thornton Academy and Kennebunk High School.

“It’s been fabulous. Our students really enjoyed themselves in this program and took ownership of it,” Bonneau said. “The work speaks for itself.”

The youths most involved with the renovation of the house were second-year building trades students who already have finished school for the year and graduate next week. The first-year students, who were responsible for building the garage, are already eagerly awaiting their turn to renovate the house at 518 Main St.

“It helps the economy in the city and it helps us out learning the trades for the future,” said Jacob Damon, 17, of Saco.

During the open house Wednesday, Richard Trethewey of the PBS show “This Old House” will be on hand to see the transformation. Godbout said it’s possible the show will feature the next house renovation.


Godbout said it’s easy to get emotional when he thinks about how much work has gone into the house and the amount of growth in self-esteem he saw in the students who worked alongside him.

“You see a glimmer in their eye that they really accomplished this,” he said. “They’re going to drive by this house for years and know they had a part in it.”

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

Twitter: grahamgillian

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