Updated: January 24, 2013 at 12:00 am
It felt like a spring day on Courtney Drive, with new growth sprouting all along the sloping street.
But the additions to the fire-ravaged neighborhood were not grass shoots or budding trees. They are new homes, sunning themselves on the unseasonably warm January afternoon.
For the Benson family, it was a banner day to move in, and they greeted it appropriately by posting a large sign out front to celebrate and thank their builder, Brad Helton.
“Home again, home again! Oh yes we are,” it reads. “Brad Helton — you are a superstar!”
The title caught the reserved Calhan-based contractor off guard.
“I was so embarassed. I’m no superhero,” Helton said on Thursday. “It’s like, oh man, that was embarassing. I told them, ‘You guys shouldn’t have done this.’”
Embarassed or not, superhero or not, Helton gave them the house they were looking for — just like their former one, but without the oddities of 1980s construction.
On Thursday, Betsy Benson walked over the woodpaneled floors, smelling of new varnish, admired the modern gas stove and marveled at the built-in window benches in the kids’ rooms.
“It sounds like it is a lot nicer than what they had, but that was my whole intention,” Helton said of the new 2225 Courtney Drive. “I just tried to push real hard, and do a real nice job for them. That was real important.”
The Bensons bought their home in early March; just over three months later, it was one of the 28 homes out of 32 on Courtney Drive decimated by the Waldo Canyon fire. Transplants from Louisiana and Colorado Springs residents for eight years, the Bensons barely knew their neighbors.
For seven months after the fire they lived in Rockrimmon, getting to know their new neighbors, before it was time to return to Mountain Shadows. That made their return, as the first family to move back to Courtney, bittersweet, Betsy said.
Their home, built in 1988, had some quirks that they intended to transform over the years — a monstrous garden tub in the master bath, no door to the bathroom and a sunken living room.
On June 26, after a sudden evacuation and flurry of collecting kids, pets, documents and computers, they spotted their house burning on the evening television news.
The family — cats, dogs, parents and two daughters, ages 13 and 16 — temporarily relocated to Peyton, livingwith friends and their horses for about a month.
“We joked it was like the best summer vacation ever,” Betsy Benson said.
Lee Benson walked around the friends’ house with construction on his mind, his wife recalled. “I really like this about this house,” he kept saying, until the couple decided to meet its builder — Helton, who has owned B & N Construction for 20 years.
When they hired Helton, the trio was breaking ground in more ways than one. Betsy and Lee had always purchased existing houses, and had never customized a new home for themselves. Helton, who typically builds homes in eastern El Paso County, had never built one in the city of Colorado Springs. Some rules and regulations were different, but “everything worked out all right,” he said.
Helton needed the work.
“I was really happy to get that job,” he added. “It’s been pretty slow for the last four years. Seems like money’s just been really tight.”
He’s been getting by doing odds and ends, reframing houses if he has to, he said.
The bustling atmosphere on Courtney Drive, and throughout Mountain Shadows, suggests that Helton is not the only contractor happy to be at work.
On Courtney, there are houses in all phases on construction — some are merely wood frames, with their addresses spray-painted on the side, while others are stuccoed. Some lots remain barren, like the one next to the Benson’s, with a black-and-white “Available” sign stuck in the dirt.
Workers pounded away in their shirt-sleeves on Thursday, when temperatures rose into the high 60s.
“It’s kind of crazy,” Helton said of the scene. “There was a lot of construction going on up there. I think everybody’s trying to out-do one another. At least, that’s my take on it.”
Like other contractors, Helton put up a sign in front of the Benson’s two-story home. The sign is an impressive wooden structure in its own right — but it hasn’t brought him the attention he hoped it would.
“I have not yet had one call, but that’s the nature of the beast,” he said, with slight disappointment.
Nonetheless, the Bensons could not be more delighted. To honor the home and Helton, Betsy picked up a glass-painted sign at an antique store. She had Helton hang it in the stairwell, where anyone who walks in the door can’t help but see it. It displays a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson.
“The reward of a thing well done,” it reads, “is to have done it.”
Rebuilding Courtney Drive is an occasional series about the street in Mountain Shadows neighborhood as it rebuilds from the rubble left by the Waldo Canyon fire.
The street curves to the east of a swath of Mountain Shadows Open Space, running between Rossmere Street and Ashton Park Place.
• Houses: 32 single-family homes, averaging 2,400 square feet, built in late 1980s and early 1990s.
• Fire damage: 28 homes destroyed, four standing
• Home values: average market value, $188,000; five-year sale average, $303,000.
Source: El Paso County Assessor’s Office
Contact Ryan Maye Handy: 636-0261