The many plans of Steve LaFrance

By on April 22, 2021

Steve Lafrance (L) and Howard Olds (R) share a laugh by the yellow house. (Photos by Kip Tabb)
Still under construction the yellow house takes shape. (Photos by Kip Tabb)
Blue house seen across the wetlands from the yellow house. (Photos by Kip Tabb)
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KDH resident now building his own homes

Before he built the little blue house on the hill at the corner of West Kitty Hawk Road and Midgett Road, Steve Lafrance had never built a house.

Now, the Kill Devil Hills resident is well into building his second house, the yellow one across from the blue home — one where his children and grandchildren can stay when they visit.

This new endeavor is all part of his philosophy on life. “I have these harebrained ideas and then I stick to it until I’m successful,” he says. “I always have plans,” he adds. “That’s how I live my life.”

Lafrance’s life has been a winding and shifting journey. He grew up in Hampton Roads, got out of high school and worked as a car mechanic for a couple of years. Tired of scraped knuckles and a sore back, he enlisted in the Air Force. He was given a choice of folding parachutes or working in the new field of telecommunications. He chose telecommunications. After four years in the Air Force, he started working for Sprint, got his degree in business management and became a project manager. After 18 years working for Sprint and then Qwest, he was living in northern Virginia with three children and a divorce.

“I was a corporate guy. I had to go to D.C. all the time, but I had to be around my kids… I thought I needed a business around there,” he said. “So I quit, and I started my body shop.”

After his daughters graduated from college and his son was in the Army, Lafrance sold the business and moved to the Outer Banks in 2013. He bought the Mellow Dog Gallery in Manteo, which has since closed. “I know nothing about art,” he says of his foray into that world. “But I did learn to appreciate it.”

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The yellow house that Lafrance is currently building is taking a lot longer than the blue home — largely because he took a very bad tumble in October 2019. He was on the deck at the time, holding a sheet of plywood when a gust of wind pushed him backwards, off the deck to the ground 13 feet below. Knocked him out.

He regained consciousness about an hour later. Wiggled his fingers, wiggled his toes. They were working, so he figured nothing was broken.  “Then I tried to stand up and my legs weren’t working,” he said. He dragged himself to his truck using elbows and hands but couldn’t get in without functioning legs. He called Sandy, who lives in the blue house, and they summoned the paramedics.

His fall had broken the two vertebrae in his neck, cracked his sternum, given him a severe concussion, and did some additional damage to his back. Lafrance was out of commission for eight months. But some work did get done at the house.

A friend named Howard Olds, who had helped him frame the blue house, knew what would happen if the inside was left exposed. So on a Saturday, he got some friends together and they roofed the building.

“They took their Saturday morning to do this,” Lafrance said. “Why do you think they did it? It’s just the Outer Banks way.”

The injury has slowed Lafrance down. He still can’t pick his head up all the way, although that seems to be slowly improving. And he can only work for three or four hours at a time. In talking with him, he’s upbeat and remains optimistic about finishing the house even though he has had to adjust his plans.

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The blue house that he finished in 2018 was built as a home for a friend in need, Sandy. Lafrance and Sandy met when she worked at his Mellow Dog Gallery. Sandy, who is now in her 80s, was living in a walkout basement apartment that Lafrance describes as “full of mold and mildew.”

He decided he wanted to help her.

“I started looking around and doing my research and there’s nothing out there,” for seniors, he said.

LaFrance, who had once ridden cross country on his bike, recalls that “I was on my bike pedaling down this road. There was a for sale sign right there on the wetlands, and it was leaning over, and it looked like it been there forever,” he recalled.

If not forever, certainly for some time. He made an offer that was well below the original asking price and became the owner of about an acre and a half of mostly wetlands with two small areas where a home could be built.

He made good on his desire to help Sandy, letting her live there rent free. When he finishes the yellow house, that will be for his kids and his grandchildren when they visit.

There is only a hint of the beauty from the road, and he has done a lot to preserve that beauty.

About a week ago, Lafrance was hand digging a trench for the water line. A backhoe would have been much faster and easier on him, but that wasn’t important.

“I saved my trees,” he said. “With a backhoe…they have no choice. They’re on a timeline. I’m not.”

Lafrance stands on the deck of his half-finished home and points to what makes it so wonderful.

“You can look down here and you see where the deer comes through,” he said. “You want to see the dragon flies. Oh man, I am telling you, there are thousands of them, so there are no mosquitoes. You’d think this has got to be full of mosquitoes, but it’s not. There’s an entire world right here.”


BIDDER PRE-QUALIFICATION REQUEST:

Barnhill Building Group has been selected as the Construction Manager @ Risk by the College of the Albemarle and is seeking to pre-qualify construction trade contractors to submit bids for the furnishing labor, materials, equipment, and tools for the new College of The Albemarle – Allied Health Sciences Simulation Lab (COA Health Sciences) located in Elizabeth City, NC. Please note: Only subcontractors who have been prequalified by Barnhill will be able to submit a Bid.

The project consists of the new construction of a 38,000-sf, 2-story expansion to the existing Owens Health Sciences Center and will house classrooms, labs, and a simulation lab. The site is just over just over 4.5 acres and is located on an active campus. This new construction will be a steel structure with a brick and metal panel veneer, curtainwall, and storefront glazing with a PVC roof membrane.

Principal trade and specialty contractors are solicited for the following Bid Packages:

BP0100: General Trades

BP0105: Final Cleaning

BP0390: Turnkey Concrete

BP0400: Turnkey Masonry

BP0500: Structural Steel & Misc. Steel

BP0740: Roofing

BP0750: Metal Panels

BP0790: Caulking / Caulking

BP0800: Turnkey Doors/Frames/Hardware

BP0840: Glass & Glazing

BP0925: Drywall

BP0960: Resilient Flooring

BP0980: Acoustical Ceilings

BP0990: Painting & Wallcovering

BP1005: Toilet Specialties / Accessories / Division 10

BP1010: Signage

BP1098: Demountable Partitions

BP1230: Finish Carpentry and Casework

BP1250: Window Treatment

BP1400: Elevators

BP2100: Fire Protection

BP2200: Plumbing

BP2300: HVAC

BP2600: Turnkey Electrical

BP3100: Turnkey Sitework

BP3290: Landscaping

Packages may be added and/or deleted at the discretion of the Construction Manager. Historically underutilized business firms are encouraged to complete participation submittals.

HUB/MWBE OUTREACH MEETING: Barnhill Building Group will be conducting a HUB/MWBE Informational Session. You are encouraged to attend the following session to learn more about project participation opportunities available to you. These seminars will help to: Learn about project and scope; Inform and train Minority/HUB contractors in preparation for bidding this project; Assist in registration on the State of North Carolina Vendor link; Stimulate opportunities for Networking with other firms. Location and time TBD. Please visit our planroom at https://app.buildingconnected.com/public/54da832ce3edb5050017438b for more information.

Interested contractors should submit their completed prequalification submittals, by July 22, 2024, to Meredith Terrell at mterrell@barnhillcontracting.com or hardcopies can be mailed to Barnhill Contracting Company PO Box 31765 Raleigh, NC 27622 (4325 Pleasant Valley Road, NC 27612).


 



Comments

  • Thinking About the Future

    Now this is one impressive person – with an indomitable spirit! Thanks so much for reporting Steve LaFrance’s story. He is an inspiration on so many levels!

    Thursday, Apr 22 @ 5:16 pm
  • Monica Penn

    Cool story! I’m fairly certain the man on the right is Jim Hughes.

    Monday, Apr 26 @ 1:04 pm
  • BeachBartlett

    Great Article! Glad someone got the word out about all the things you’ve done & are still doing!
    House looks Great! Still amazed that you’re able to do any of it after that swan dive you took!
    Congratulations,
    The McCafe’ Club 😁

    Monday, Apr 26 @ 6:45 pm