While it might not feel like it considering how rural this region is, there is less green space in the Valley than a generation ago. As more and more new construction — from housing developments to hospital expansions to solar farms — there are new parking lots, buildings and infrastructure around every corner.

There are also plenty of vacant properties, looking for rebirth.

Today and the next three days, The Daily Item will look at four properties in various stages of rebirth and rehabilitation, the challenges owners are tasked with and what they hope the buildings become or have already evolved into.

Local architect Ted Strosser is working with Pastor Mark Gittens has Gittens' h2Church begins work on turning the former Bimbo Bakery plant in Sunbury into a community home for worship space and fellowship. Strosser, a partner with SBA Architects in Sunbury, has previously worked on restoring the Campus Theatre and St. Joseph Catholic Church in Danville. His firm also does new construction, but Strosser likes restoring properties to former glory.

"It preserves the cultural value of a community while also promoting environmental preservation," he said. "There is so much underutilized space in the Valley. I always cringe at these industrial parks. There is a place for them. Certain types of new businesses need those spaces."

Strosser and Mike Molesevich, an energy and environmental consultant who worked on the Rusty Rail renovation project, said there are environmental savings that come with restoring properties.

"By redoing an old building, we save undeveloped land, farmland and reduce sprawl," Molesevich said. "There is less energy resourced to rehab an old building rather than start fresh."

Existing infrastructure is also key.

For a project like Bimbo Bakery, located in a neighborhood in Sunbury, no roads need to be built, utilities are in place. Some may need to be upgraded, but the planning is much farther down the road at the start.

"Existing buildings already have sewer, gas, power, roads," Strosser said. "They don't have to build anything."

"We don't have to dig up more limestone for concrete, or cut down more trees or lumber for wood," Molesevich said. "The environmental footprint is much smaller than starting a new build."

Those looking at building new or renovating a building do have to consider the renovation costs and how they measure up.

Strosser said many restoration projects begin with evaluating the cost to safely remove lead paint and asbestos. 

"The first hurdle is always any significant asbestos," he said. "It can kill a project. Even if you demolish a building, you still have to dispose of it safely."

But once inside, Strosser said there is always something to be said for leaving things as original as possible. Grant possibilities or tax credits often ride on the historical integrity of a project. 

"Most of our work is renovations of existing properties and it doesn't always have to be super transformative," he said. "When we are talking conservation, the less you do the better. Keep the finishes and the systems in place. Keep bathrooms where they are. When you do that, and do the work, it can cost less than building from new."



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