Politics, obstacles encumber house move

By Emily LeCoz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – A higher-than-anticipated price to move the historic Spain House from its downtown location to a corner lot in Mill Village has city leaders mulling their options.
If they don’t accept the $161,454 bid to relocate it, they could jeopardize a roughly three-year effort to save the house from demolition.
But the bid price shocked them.
“It’s a lot higher than we expected,” said City Clerk Kim Hanna at Tuesday’s bid opening. An original estimated cost was $100,000.
The Mississippi Department of Archives and History had awarded Tupelo a $175,000 grant – $35,000 of which the city must match – to move and stabilize the structure. The grant designated $100,000 for the move, $25,000 to prepare a new foundation, and $50,000 to stabilize and “moth ball” the house until later renovation.
Kosciusko House Movers was the sole company to submit a price. Other house movers, though, said it’s a fair deal considering the size of the historic structure and the numerous complications involved in navigating a series of city streets.
“If you can get anybody to move it at all, you’re lucky,” said Fonda Payne of Laurel-based Payne House Movers. “No one wants to deal with a two-story.”
Payne was among three Mississippi-based house movers who spoke with the Daily Journal on Friday about the costs and considerations of moving a home.
The bigger the structure and the greater the distance, the higher the price. But even small jobs can prove complicated, said Daniel Elder of Ripley-based Elder Independent House Movers, who cited politics as the biggest headache.
Local politicians get dragged into the process by homeowners on the relocation path, Elder said. Most of them worry about trees.
“Tree limbs are bad in the way,” he said. “They don’t want us to cut them, but limbs hanging over the street don’t belong to them; they belong to the city. And it gets political, because the politicians don’t want to lose votes.”
The process begins weeks before the actual relocation. Movers first must measure the structure’s height and width and determine if the desired route can accommodate it in one piece. If not, it must be cut in half.
Sometimes that means splitting the first and second floors. Other times it requires a vertical split, as in the case of the Spain House. With a footprint of 2,674 square feet, according to county tax rolls, it would be too large to transport through some of the narrow city streets.
Movers said they’ll use a skill saw or a keyhole saw to carefully separate a structure, while avoiding windows, doors and weight-bearing beams. Then they’ll transport each piece separately and reassemble it at the new site – usually within one-hundredth of an inch.
Good as new.
But not so easy. In addition to street width, a house might encounter numerous obstacles in its path. Among them: utility lines, mailboxes, fences, parked cars and trees. Utility lines often prove most costly.
Kosciusko House Movers added about $31,000 to its bid to cover the cost imposed by Tupelo Water & Light to temporarily relocate utility lines. That’s nearly one-fifth the entire project cost.
“All utilities charge differently,” said Molly Harris of Walls-based Aztec House Movers. “But it’s a lot easier dealing with one set of utilities than moving a house 75 miles and having to deal with several of them.”
Movers also need to obtain city permits, notify property owners along the route, work with local officials and keep an eye on the weather.
“For a two-story house, you’re looking at six to eight weeks to move it,” Payne said. “It’s a slow process.”
When the big day comes, movers cut power to the structure. Then they slide beams under the house – sometimes trenching underground to do so – and lift the beams with air jacks. Cribbing blocks then go underneath the beams to lift the structure higher, and, finally, it’s slid onto the flatbed of a truck.
“And off you go,” Elder said.
Depending on the size of the house and the amount of preparation work, it can take several days to get the structure off its foundation and onto the truck.
Moves typically happen at night when traffic slows and neighbors sleep, but that’s not always the case.
Once the house arrives at its destination, it’s lined up with the new footing and eased onto awaiting cribbing blocks. Slowly the structure gets lowered onto its new foundation and, if it’s cut apart, reassembled.
“It’s actually a talent,” said Elder, who has moved houses for 50 years.
He told about one structure he relocated whose owner had poured a glass of water and left it in the house. Not one drop spilled during transport, Elder said.
Whether this will be the fate of the Spain House remains in the hands of the City Council. Its members meet Tuesday to discuss the bid and their options.
emily.lecoz@journalinc.com