Waitingfor the big one to drop?

Published on Thu, May 12, 2005 by ack Kintner

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Waiting for the big one to drop?

By Jack Kintner

When Scott Malis and his fianceé Colleen Sullivan first read about Donna Snyder’s house at 617 B Street in Blaine in a real estate flyer, they were intrigued. When they saw it a few days later they quickly decided to buy it, and closed just over a year ago on April 1, 2004, the day before Malis turned 30.

The feature that had them so intrigued is the four-story basement that builder Kenly Snyder dug out from under the house in a more or less solo project that lasted over two decades, beginning in 1976. Working almost entirely by hand, Snyder, a professor at Trinity Western University in Langley, extracted the dirt with plastic buckets, hoisting them up into the garage and then emptying them into a truck or trailer for disposal later.

Both realtors, and self-described real estate investors, Malis and Sullivan have put the house on the market while building their dream house in Birch Bay Village. They plan to host open houses the next two weekends, which is the chance many locals have been waiting for to get a good look inside.

Snyder, who died several years ago but whose widow Donna still lives in the area, began excavating a bomb shelter, but the project grew over time into what Malis describes as a giant work of art, a lovingly created and whimsical four story 1,600 square foot basement on many different levels that is also very comfortable, clean and with concrete walls three feet thick solid as a rock.

Though there are several ways to sneak in and out, it’s reached most easily by a concrete stairway that descends just inside the west wall to a bathroom. A door in the back opens into a storage area for food, but sliding the shelves reveals another doorway to another stairway down to a hallway, off which one can go to a computer room or down a third stairway to some of the deeper levels. What the couple calls the “rec room,” the biggest room in the complex, is also off the hallway and connects through passages to other spaces. It’s a little confusing, deliberately so, Malis feels, and several of the more obvious doors are just for decoration. He added that “kids have a lot of fun sliding in the little passageways between rooms, almost as much fun as I have showing them where they are.”

Malis pointed out what looked like a culvert protruding vertically through the ceiling behind a sliding concrete door weighing several tons. “That’s the hatch through which Snyder emptied out his endless buckets of dirt,” he said, “with an electric hoist he installed that could carry two or three at once, or to serve as a kind of elevator.”

Sullivan said that it’s the cleanest basement she’s ever seen, with no smells of any kind due to its independent air ventilation system with many intakes and good circulation. “One little space heater on the bottom floor will easily heat the whole thing,” she said. Snyder installed four sump pumps, one for black and gray water (sewage and used wash water) and three for storm water that is kept separate from the gray water.

“He tapped into the storm water system about 10 years ago and got busted,” grinned Malis, “and had to take all the cops on tour mid to late 90s since the rumors were wild, some suggesting that he’d dug across the border into Canada. But the basement is smaller than the footprint of the house, though it probably does keep the neighbors from having water problems in their basements.” The property was eventually permitted and is now completely legal.

“It’s a constant 66 degrees down here,” said Malis with the kind of smile you see on kids who have the neatest treehouse in the neighborhood, “and it’s always clean and dust free, and never musty.”

The couple, who will be married sometime this year, said that they’ve had their share of musty basements, “but this is tight and clean,” Malis said, “and almost has to be seen to be believed. In fact, if I really try and think about how he did all this too hard I get a headache.”

The concrete work everywhere, for example, is smooth and flat, well-painted and completely sealed. The rec room sports some false doors and a molded wall that looks like the inside of a castle. “Every time I dig a plant in the yard,” Malis said, “I hit clay, and then think of Mr. Snyder and how hard he had to work to do all this.”

He said that he and Sullivan have thought of “20 or 30” different uses for the space a prospective buyer might consider, such as archival storage, a dark room or a recording studio. It’s as silent as a tomb, and with the lights out it’s really dark, so much that it’s a little disconcerting to guests and friends to whom they’ve shown it. Below ground level there’s no cell reception or radio or television, “but it’s all wired for telephone and TV, and there’s a computer room down there that’s completely hooked up as well,” Malis said.

Above ground, and what people see driving by, the house looks like a normal split level three bedroom two bathroom rambler, with a two-car garage that faces B Street.

A for sale sign in front advertises North Haven Real Estate and Scott Malis and Colleen Sullivan as the realtors to contact at 332-9966, which is the number to call to check on the open houses the couple plans to have on May 15 and 22. The website is www.oneofakindhouse.com.