Research engineer starts new career in home-building

Research engineer starts new career in home-building
 
Date November 24, 2004
Section(s) Local News
   
 
By JOHN JENNINGS

NDN Staff Writer

A little planning can take one a long way. Anticipation of likely events can pay off in big dividends. Just ask Dru McMillan.

When McMillan realized that his 28-year career at Maytag may be in jeopardy, he began planning for a second career, something totally different. Now, less than a year later, McMillan is heading up a construction company, and he hopes his efforts can make a difference in the community and in the lives of those whose homes he’s building.

McMillan’s father was diagnosed with emphysema in 1960. For the last two years of his life he was confined to a wheelchair until his death in 1998. That set McMillan to thinking about the problems of mobility that wheelchair-bound individuals face every day in their own homes. Now, McMillan hopes to make life just a little easier for those in wheelchairs or the elderly, through the construction of his homes.

McMillan is working on his first house, situated on property he purchased June 1, just one day after his termination from Maytag. The home at 708 E. 21st St. Place S. is being built using Universal Design building principles, intended to create homes that are usable by all people, regardless of age, size or abilities throughout their lifespan.

Universal Design utilizes construction plans which can ensure that its occupants’ needs are met as those needs change throughout their lives. Wider doorways and hallways and entrances with level surfaces, as well as many other non-intrusive construction methods combine to create a home that can allow residents to remain in their home much longer.

As examples, McMillan’s home has a garage floor that is even with the driveway and the remainder of the house, making it much simple for maneuvering a wheelchair. All doors are 32 inches wide and the master bath features a shower area that can accommodate a wheelchair. The three bathrooms, two with showers, all have a 5-foot turning radius between fixtures. The back deck can be accessed easily from the kitchen as well. McMillan says the cooktop on the stove will be somewhat lower, and, if the new owner requests, kitchen countertops can be adjustable according to the owner’s needs. The idea is to create a home that is very usable for those with disabilities without giving an unusual appearance of alterations.

“We don’t want the accessibility of the home to be visible,” McMillan said.

The home’s basement features a family room, utility and storage rooms, two bedrooms and a bath with a shower. Although no elevator has been installed in the home, McMillan says the steps to the basement are wide enough to accommodate a rail-chair system for easier access.

McMillan has spent the last 28 years in research at Maytag, so the building trades is a completely new direction for his life. He says he is learning the building trade as he goes, however he’s not a complete novice to the profession. He worked his way through Northwest Missouri State College at Maryville, earning bachelor of science degrees in mathematics and industrial technology. He picked up another bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Missouri at Rolla, then went to work for Maytag.

Now, working on his first home as McMillan Construction Company, he’s receiving help from his son and high school students who come by after school to help out. In all, McMillan says more than 40 different people have had a hand in the home’s construction. Plumbing work was contracted out to Jason Anderson; Nook Heating and Cooling did the air conditioning work; and Al Lundberg was contracted for electrical work.

Although his first construction job probably won’t be a money-maker, McMillan figures his new house is doing some good on several levels.

“We tore down an eyesore so it’s improved the neighborhood’s property values, and it will provide a home for a disabled or elderly person, and it’s created some jobs,” McMillan said. “I learned years ago that the greatest part of life is the gift of giving.”

McMillan hopes to have the home constructed by mid-December. Although he’s already purchased another house in Mitchellville which he will demolish for his next project, he says Newton is a great place to build his houses.

“This is a community of people helping people,” McMillan said. “It’s an easy commute to several metropolitan areas, you’ve got good schools, a nice hospital, Meals on Wheels and a latch-key program at the YMCA. It’s a great place to locate.”

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