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Deconstructed Schaffhausen home: As it turns out, 'good from evil'

Tom Broker (left) and Dannie Christian of Details Construction remove a light fixture from the Schaffhausen house, 2790 Morningside Ave. The light fixture is one of the furnishings that are being removed from the house, carefully packaged and donated to Habitat for Humanity. (River Falls Journal photos by Gretta Stark)

The taking apart of the River Falls house where three sisters were murdered by their father in July 2012 began Monday with materials to be salvaged for St. Croix Valley Habitat for Humanity, a local chapter of the national organization that helps needy families build affordable houses.

Phil Stotz of Springfield, Ill., the father of the sisters' mother, Jessica Schaffhausen, said last Wednesday that finding a utilitarian purpose for the abandoned house at 2790 Morningside Ave. was better than just bulldozing or burning it down.

"That would kind of be a waste, and I don't like wastefulness," he said. "Instead of being demolished, the house is being dismantled. This way, there is some good to come out of evil. I'm glad to have this settled -- to get beyond this."

Stotz and his wife Becky volunteer for Habitat for Humanity where they live. He said saving floor joists, roof trusses, the air conditioning unit and more from a six-year-old house to benefit Habitat in the St. Croix valley area was heartwarming.

"There was a lot of anger that came out of that house," he said. "But I am very happy at how this is all turning out."

New St. Croix Valley Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Dave Engstrom said the housing material donation was "very significant," amounting to "thousands of dollars" in value, perhaps around $10,000

"We are so grateful for this contribution," he said. "It will end up helping many families," he said.

Engstrom said there's a range of salvageable materials -- from cabinetry, interior doors and high-quality windows to electrical boxes, light fixtures and copper plumbing and wiring.

Some items could end up at a Habitat's thrifty ReStore -- there's one in New Richmond -- where used building supplies are sold. Other items, like scrap metal, may be sold as recyclables.

Engstrom also said 2,200 square feet of siding from the Schaffhausen home may get sold to an interested contractor.

Engstrom said sales from whatever is sold goes back to finance Habitat for Humanity housing projects.

"It's good to see something positive come out of this tragedy," he said. "We're pleased to work with the family and their desire to have this benefit Habitat for Humanity."

In return, Engstrom will recommend to the Habitat to Humanity board of directors on Sept. 23 that the organization make a donation to the proposed Tri Angels playground.

Fundraising began this year for the universally accessible playground to be built somewhere in River Falls in memory of the three Schaffhausen sisters -- Amara, Sophie and Cecilia.

The delinquent $181,000 mortgage on the Schaffhausen house was retained last month by Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union of St. Paul when there were no bidders on the property during a sheriff's auction sale.

Credit Union officials, consulting with family members and friends, decided not to resell the house, but instead disassemble it and find uses for the building materials.

Dave Larson, Affinity Plus president and CEO, said his not-for-profit company makes it a business priority "to first do what's right."

"We wanted to honor the wishes and direction of the family, and also to find out from Jessica what she wanted done with the house," Larson said.

Larson also got feedback from neighbors, citizens and groups in River Falls who didn't want the house sold, thinking maybe the lot could be converted to a park area.

In the end it was decided to follow the family's and Jessica's wishes that the dismantled house have its parts go to Habitat for Humanity.

Beyond that, Larson then got approval from his board of directors to have the vacant lot leveled and resold for a new house -- with proceeds from that lot sale going to the River Falls Tri Angels Park Advisory Committee for the memorial playground.

The local committee already has raised a sizable portion of the $500,000 needed to finance the playground.

Stotz's wife, Becky, said almost $7,000 was raised during a silent auction of the three sisters' artwork in August at Gallery 120 in River Falls. Another $70,000 was raised from a July 5K Fun Run at Hoffman Park.

Local merchants are also selling pin ups and bracelets to raise more money. And Becky Stotz said grant applications will be submitted on the park's behalf.

Aaron Schaffhausen, the father of Amara, Sophie and Cecilia, is serving a prison life sentence for their murders.