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A conversation with Don Vaughn Jr.

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, April 7, 2013, at 7:27 a.m.

Don Vaughn Jr. is tired.

He has just finished renovating, with a partner, the former Kellogg Elementary into 18 apartments. He has also overseen renovation of a couple of buildings he owns at First and St. Francis. And he runs heating and air-conditioning contractor Don Vaughn Inc.

Converting the art deco school, he said, was – more or less – a labor of love, despite working sometimes until midnight.

It’s something he’s proud of, although he concedes he’s pretty burned out at the moment. Some day, though, he said, he might get interested in another such project, if the building were right.

There will be an open house at Kellogg Apartments from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday.

Vaughn, 56, is married to Marcia, and they have three children.

How did you get into renovating a school?

My father did one several years ago, Martinson Elementary, and him and my mother moved into it after they refurbished that. I spent a lot of time there in their apartment. There was a swimming pool and it was nice place, a lot of fun to go to, take the kids. And then years later, a friend of mine, my business partner, Tom George, got interested in buying a building and I wound up helping him just cause I’m in the construction trade. … My original intention was not to buy a building, but it ended up I became his partner. … What I like about this building is that it’s beautiful, rock solid, and it has a 4-foot crawl space underneath it. It’s very close to where I live and very close to our business. In running the project I was three to four minutes from here, so that worked out very well.

What did you learn from this?

It’s always a lot more work than you think it is. Being in the construction business, there were no big surprises. I guess I would want to know more about the historic tax credits, about what needs to be done for those, even though that went pretty smoothly. … The biggest struggle for me is I have to recognize that these are apartments. This isn’t my house. As I went through this I had a hard time about that. You know, I want something really cool. I want four or five different colors of paint. Tom was the sensible side of that, helped keep me in line with that. … These are a little higher quality and I probably went to, I don’t want to say extremes, but more than I should have. But the biggest thing is I took a lot of pride in this building.

Would you do another one?

It would have to be the right building. It would be something that if you walked into it you would know right away. Maybe another thing that attracted me to this is when I was younger my father’s business was just down the street here. … We worked out of a small two-story brick apartment building. We worked out of the basement with a garage out back, and the top two floors were apartments. So this little area was part of my stomping grounds.

Isn’t this project plus running your main business like doing two full-time jobs?

Yes. I work a lot. I would get home at night at 11 or 12 … and the only thing that’s made it worthwhile is that I’ve really enjoying doing this. If I considered this a job, I would have gone crazy already.

So, when do you start the next one?

I need a break. But I don’t know – unless my emphasis on my business changed, I don’t know that I would do another one. Or I might do it differently and not be so hands-on. If I could do it and not be so hands-on, if I could detach myself for the next one … then it would be easier. On this one, people would call, they would see the website and say, “Hey, can we come see the place?” And, boy, I’d just jump up and run over here to show it to them. After 10 or 20 times … I said you know, I’m done with that.

Are things better in commercial construction?

No. I don’t think so. It’s about the same, I don’t see a whole bunch of change for the next couple of years. In the summer there’s always a flurry of activity as schools want to get work done in the summer. They’re not big jobs, they’re smaller jobs crammed into three months. And that works good for the summer. I probably bid five jobs this week. But other than that, the government is not spending a lot of money.

Did you look farther afield during the recession in looking for work?

We’ve actually brought things in a bit, gotten smaller, and tried to cut some overhead. During this time we’ve worked on some of the properties we own. In addition to this, we have a couple buildings downtown across the street from our business, older buildings, old warehouses. And that activity has picked up recently. So we’re not only busy with this project, but we’re finishing up the lease space downtown.

Reach Dan Voorhis at 316-268-6577 or dvoorhis@wichitaeagle.com.

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