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Published: Sunday, 7/24/2005

Awash in challenges

BY GARY T. PAKULSKI
BLADE REAL ESTATE WRITER
A load of construction materials heads across Lake Erie aboard the M/V South Bass to a construction project on Middle Bass Island . A load of construction materials heads across Lake Erie aboard the M/V South Bass to a construction project on Middle Bass Island .
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With blood flowing from a sliced finger, construction worker Jay Gase weighed his options. He could board a ferry for the 45-minute ride across southern Lake Erie to a hospital on the mainland.

But, between the trip and time spent in the emergency room, the 26-year-old home builder feared he would lose a day s work for what seemed a minor injury. So instead, he found surgical thread and stitched the wound himself.

It wasn t a conventional solution.

But then, not much is conventional about the building industry on Middle Bass Island and its populated sister islands, South Bass and Kelleys.

It s a different type of world, said Mr. Gase s father, Bob, who is finishing a lakefront housing development called Eastpoint Villas on Middle Bass.

There are no builder supply stores to dash to in order to replenish lumber stocks; no big labor pools to fill in a vacancy on a framing crew; and often for construction workers, no practical way to return to homes and families at the end of each day. Kelleys has just 370 residents; South Bass, 500, and Middle Bass just a few dozen.

But it is a world that more contractors and construction workers are likely to learn about. Demand for second homes and retirement villas on the waterfront remains high.

And Put-in-Bay on South Bass, which young partiers have turned into southern Lake Erie s version of Key West, continues to attract commercial development.

Islanders learned last week that the federal government would kick in $1 million to remove an impediment to development: lack of clean water. The money will be used to extend a public water line to areas where the only access to water has been from ground wells with questionable water quality.

For the contractors who build homes, motels, and bars along the islands rocky shores, the remote location means added costs, logistical problems, and occasional transportation headaches.

The elder Mr. Gase, owner of Gase Construction in Fostoria, budgeted $35,000 for lodging expenses and ferry transportation when he figured costs for the 10 homes finished or nearing completion.

We ll be a little high on that because of the housing, he conceded in an interview.

Bob Gase carries gear to the ferry. Bob Gase carries gear to the ferry.
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Workers an average of seven but as many as 16 during peak times lived weekdays in nearby cottages rented by the contractor and his business partners. One benefit of the arrangement: During off-times, many workers occupied themselves by casting fishing lines into Lake Erie.

For trips across the lake, lumber, drywall, and other construction materials were packed into a 44-foot-long semi-trailer.

They were stacked as high as we could go with as much as could get in, Mr. Gase said.

To move the material, he hired Miller Boat Lines, which began 100 years ago ferrying blocks of ice to yachts docked along the shores of the islands.

At any given time, there are two to three houses being built on the islands, said Billy Market, president of the ferry service in Put-in-Bay. But we don t notice those projects as much as the big commercial projects.

The firm provides nearly all freight service to South and Middle Bass. Freight accounts for 10 to 15 percent of Miller s sales, Mr. Market said.

Charges are based on the length of the vehicle rather than the weight, providing an incentive to make the most of each load. Even so, Mr. Gase estimated he spent about $900 a house for transportation plus $300 for dock fees. Upon arriving on the island, trucks were driven off the boats and to the job site.

Workers ran out of one material or another several times. But rather than halting work on the $285,000, three-bedroom homes, they switched tasks.

We never had to stop working, Mr. Gase said.

Eastpoint Villas, where two of the 10 units are completed and for sale, is on the three-acre site of a former fishing camp, with 325 feet of waterfront.

Three units at Eastpoint Villas are nearing completion. Three units at Eastpoint Villas are nearing completion.
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Mr. Gase wasn t thrilled about his son s decision to stitch his own wound, but said a physician who later examined the work told the young man he did a pretty good job.

Because Mr. Gase and partners Tim Frankart and Greg Ridge, also of Fostoria, waited until April to begin construction, they didn t have to deal with the unique problems presented by winter.

That was not the case for Ken Schafer, president of a Huron County firm that oversaw two commercial projects at Put-in-Bay this year.

You have to have some creativity, said Mr. Schafer, of Janotta & Herner Inc., a Huron County firm that has built six hotels on the island including Put-in-Bay Resort & Conference Center and an expansion at the Commodore Resort this year.

One such problem: where to store huge supplies of drywall, which can be ruined by exposure to moisture.

Mr. Schafer found his solution at a boat yard where personnel had skill at protecting boats over winter by encasing them in shrink-wrapped plastic. That s what we did, he said. We stacked them five to six bunks high. They were in perfect shape when we wanted to use them.

Construction schedules on commercial projects usually are worked around the flow of tourists. That means work can t begin until Labor Day weekend and must be completed by the opening of the season Memorial Day weekend.

Because ferries are the only economical way to transport large items, building materials must be brought to the island by mid-December, when the boats stop running in anticipation of the winter freeze.

When crews run out of a material, air charter services are a delivery option. But they re not cheap. Less expensive are airboats, which glide across the ice. It s a bumpy ride, Mr. Schafer said. But it s something we do a couple times a month for little widgets.

Janotta & Herner, of Monroeville, Ohio, employs its own construction crews. The company flies workers to the island on Monday mornings and returns them to their homes Thursday or Friday.

But because aircraft, ranging from seven to 15 passengers, sometimes are grounded by fog or bad weather, workers are advised to pack their bags for an extra night s stay, the company president said.

The customer is responsible for paying for crews food and lodging and the expense of bringing materials from the mainland.

Wind and snow present another challenge for construction crews, especially on waterfront projects.

On some mornings, you get the snow shovel and shovel out a motel room, Mr. Schafer said. And you have 40 more rooms just like that.

Contact Gary Pakulski at: gpakulski@theblade.com or 419-724-6082.



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