'Extreme Makeover' home finished in Clayton

By Ed Brock and Greg Gelpi

The chants of "Move that bus" were answered, and the cast and crew of ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" revealed to the Harper family of Lake City the answer to all their prayers.

They literally jumped for joy to see, not a cleaned up version of their old home but, a brand new, 5,000-square foot English Country-style home built for them in less than one week.

"It's a blessing sent from God, one that was long overdue for them," said Shalon Travis, Patricia Harper's sister-in-law, after Sunday's revelation of the new home. "It's an 'extreme blessing.'"

The Harpers, Patricia and Milton, and their three children, Darius, LaVaughn and Mister, ranging in ages from 8 to 17, had been surprised last week to discover that their application for help from the show had been answered. They were bundled off for a vacation at Disneyland in California, while the "Extreme Makeover" crew tore down the old home to make way for the new.

Several years ago, the Harpers moved to Lake City from a New York public housing project and spent their life savings trying to repair the house on Ahyoka Drive. They endured continual problems with a septic tank that backed up into the house each time it rained, forcing the family to sleep in a van in the driveway.

"It was almost unlivable, with about 3 or 4 feet of raw sewage and things growing in the basement," said Travis.

The septic tank was removed, and the new home is hooked up to the county sewer system. Then, Atlanta-based Beazer Homes USA, a national builder, took on the task of erecting the new home, a job they completed in just four days, said Marilyn Gardner, Beazer Homes vice president of sales and marketing.

"We feel really good, because we think about what this means for the family," Gardner said.

Crews have been "working pretty much around the clock" to meet the challenge and complete the project, Gardner added.

Atlanta Falcons cheerleaders even came one night to invigorate workers. Workers mustered the energy to complete the project by living out the Beazer motto "Some day starts today," a motto chanted to launch the project, she said, and today means a "brand new start" for the Harper family.

"I tell you the truth, our guys love a challenge," Gardner said of the hundreds of workers. "We've absolutely had challenges all along the way."

The challenge "compressed" the time for building the house into five days and nine hours, forcing many phases of the house to be addressed simultaneously and pushing scheduling down to five-minute increments.

"It's just a very, very well-oiled machine," she said. "(The Harpers) are just so sweet and so appreciative."

Crowds of spectators filed past the house during its construction, including Lisa and Daryl Stone, of Lake City, who brought their children to see the house on Saturday.

"I think it's beautiful," said Lisa Stone. "It's amazing."

The work and celebrity attention wasn't always easy on neighbors of the Harpers, like David Allman who lives on Oakwood Drive, one street over from Ahyoka and who was next door to a makeshift road that gave construction crews access to the site.

"It doesn't keep us up or anything, but it rattles the dishes when the trucks go by," Allman said.

But he wasn't complaining because, "You know they're doing something good."

The home is the biggest one built by the television show, Gardner said. A date for the show to air has yet to be set, but it should appear in February or March. Ty Pennington, the star of the show, made his first appearance on the set Friday, arriving aboard a Lake City fire engine. Pennington, an Atlanta native, had been in the hospital recovering from an appendectomy.

Initially the family only expected the show to remodel their old home, not replace it with the near mansion to which they came home, said Milton Harper's sister Lynn Jackson of Atlanta.

"This is something they couldn't imagine in their wildest dreams," Jackson said.

But Jackson said Patricia Harper never lost faith in "Extreme Makeover."

"My sister-in-law always believed that this would happen," Jackson said.

After being allowed into their new home, the Harpers had to stay for filming and weren't expected to talk to the media on Sunday.

"Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" and Beazer Homes also partnered with several contractors and hundreds of volunteers to tackle the project.