Rough winter delays Jones House plans

aspecht@newsobserver.comMarch 19, 2014 

— From the bottom floor, Mikel Cartlidge could hear rain and sleet pinging off the roof of the Jones House, a historic home that is being transformed into a modern downtown cafe.

Renovation efforts began five months ago, but the sound still echoed off the 123-year-old walls on Tuesday as Cartlidge guided electrical wire through them.

“We’re out here in pretty much anything,” he said, referring to the weather.

The same can’t be said of all contractors.

“Most only work in good weather,” Cartlidge said.

An unusually rough winter and unexpected restoration problems have delayed plans for the Jones House, which Cary is paying $255,000 to fix up as part of a public-private partnership.

The town is sharing renovation costs with Tammy Calaway-Harper, who will pay Cary about $2,200 a month to use the house as a bakery, coffee shop and farm-to-table restaurant.

Cary officials and Calaway-Harper had hoped to open the Jones House before spring. Now, it’s not expected to open until July.

“I’m very confident it’ll be done by then,” Calaway-Harper said in a recent interview. “It’s been a good experience. Just a slow one.”

The house sits at the corner of South Academy Street and Dry Avenue, diagonal from the Cary Arts Center and across from the future location of a downtown park.

The Jones House is just one of a slew of projects – including the park and The Cary theater, which opened earlier this year – that Cary is investing in to breathe new life into downtown.

At the Jones House, workers have already torn down walls, added a ramp access to the back door, upgraded the siding and repaired the masonry foundation.

They also reinforced the floor to meet load requirements for restaurants, which “was actually one of the more difficult elements to achieve as it required adding piers under the house (while) working in tight quarters,” said Cary project manager Philip Smith.

Workers still need to fit the house for cooking equipment and refrigeration, finish the floors, add plumbing, install heating and cooling units and landscape the yard, Smith said.

All that is easier said than done because the house is so old. Its age might be part of its beauty, but it makes things difficult.

For example, the house has multiple fire places that Calaway-Harper plans to keep – but they’re falling apart. It doesn’t help that the floors aren’t level yet.

The Jones House also needs commercial-grade wiring but was built for residential-grade wiring that’s now decades out of date.

“There are a lot of little issues we’ve had to address on almost a weekly basis,” Calaway-Harper said. “We’ve gotten most of it taken care of and are moving along really fast now.”

Calaway-Harper has taken a break from her business, Sweet T cakery, to focus on the Jones House. She said the two companies will merge when the Jones House opens this summer.

In the meantime, she’s monitoring construction, hiring staff and recruiting local farms to provide the Jones House with fresh ingredients.

So far, Calaway-Harper said, she’s made agreements with In Good Heart Farm in Clayton, Hilltop Farms in Willow Spring, the Hillsborough Cheese Company and Screech Owl Greenhouses in Pittsboro.

“At the end of the day, it’s going to be amazing,” she said. “Worth the wait.”

Specht: 919-460-2608; Twitter: @AndySpecht

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