The first home went up in Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park neighborhood, kids returned to school, debris removal was completed and a larger builder pulled out of the rebuilding effort. Here's a recap of key events in Coffey Park in January and February.
The first home
The new year began with construction workers erecting a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house on Kerry Lane. It is the first home destroyed in the October wildfires to be rebuilt in Santa Rosa, where 3,000 residences were leveled during the firestorm.
Workers were able to reuse the home’s foundation, an exception in Coffey Park, where the vast majority of foundations were removed as part of the government-funded debris cleanup. The foundation’s concrete underwent strength testing and the results “were well above the minimum requirements,” said Dan Bradford, the property’s owner.
Bradford expects the home to be completed this spring. He expressed excitement at the progress and said he is “praying it gives hope to others that rebuilding in a timely manner is a distinct possibility.”
His builder, Lake County Contractors of Cobb, is among a number of construction companies large and small that are seeking work in Coffey Park. Many of those contractors have said they expect to begin work there this spring.
Back to school
Police, firefighters, National Guard personnel, community members and elected officials converged in early January to welcome nearly 400 students returning to the neighborhood’s Schaefer Elementary School.
Schaefer had been closed since October because of concerns over the effects of debris cleanup on campus air quality. As a result, students and teachers temporarily held classes at three other campuses in the Piner-Olivet school district.
Officials said air monitoring tests in December showed it was safe to reopen the school after winter break.
On the morning of their return, students found their playground filled with fire engines, police cars, motorcycles and at least one Army National Guard Hummer. First responders greeted the students and handed out hundreds of stuffed animals.
Parents and a school official spoke of the strong bonds made between teachers and children in the aftermath of the fires. They said the children are learning firsthand about compassion, caring and how people bounce back from adversity.
“You look for a silver lining, and that’s been our silver lining,” said John Way, a Schaefer parent and Piner-Olivet school board member.
Builder pulls out
DeNova Homes, a large Bay Area homebuilder, canceled plans in January to rebuild homes in Coffey Park.
The Concord company sent neighborhood residents a letter announcing its decision. DeNova cited concerns that its construction partners could not guarantee the “resources that are necessary to implement our cost-effective production model.”
It wasn’t revealed how many homeowners were affected by the company’s decision. DeNova recently stated that 75 homeowners had expressed “serious interest” in working with the builder, Coffey Strong chairman Jeff Okrepkie said.
The withdrawal fueled concern that other builders could have trouble getting enough construction workers to accommodate all the homeowners who want to rebuild this year.
“Our fear is that this is a bellwether of the way things are going to go,” Okrepkie said.
Debris removal complete
Before January ended, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced its contractors had completed the cleanup of debris from more than 1,200 houses in Coffey Park.
Read all of the PD's fire coverage here