BENTLEY — Bonnie Johnson and her husband, Phil Ciholas, wanted to find a house they could both enjoy now and stay in as they grew older.
"We didn't want to move anywhere once we couldn't get around," Ciholas said.
After touring more than 100 homes in Wichita, they found none that were handicap accessible.
The couple owns 120 acres of land near Bentley with an airstrip and hangar, along with fields of soybeans. They felt it was the perfect place to build a home designed to be a place to live as they grow older.
"We're trying to think ahead to what all could possibly happen, because we've lived that situation," Johnson said.
While neither of them use a wheelchair or have trouble with stairs, they have family and friends who do.
"The whole house is designed to ADA compliance, so we have extra-wide doors and an elevator," Ciholas said.
Johnson had had to convert the living room in her old house into a bedroom to care for her previous husband, who was confined to a wheelchair before his death.
"I had to put the hospital bed in our house and I couldn't put it in the master bedroom, so I ended up sleeping on the loveseat or the sofa because he wanted me nearby," Johnson said.
The master bedroom in Johnson and Ciholas' new home will include both an office area and a reading area, which can double as room for a hospital bed if needed.
Since they are both engineers by trade (though Johnson currently teaches high school math in several school districts around Harvey County), they felt equal to the task of building the house. Not only did Johnson draw up plans for the house, she and Ciholas decided to become the general contractors.
Ciholas, who designs flight controls for Textron Aviation, has helped his parents build houses and also built his own airplane hangar.
"That was a seven-year project — this is going much faster," Ciholas said.
Johnson is drawing upon her experience managing the wind tunnels at Wichita State University as she and her husband work on the project. The couple has also taken on many of the construction elements.
"I took the electrician's test and Phil took the plumbing test," Johnson said.
Together, they have installed all the wiring and plumbing in the two-story house.
"We got power yesterday, so we're pretty excited about that," Johnson said. "We've hired people who are experts to do some stuff but we are doing a lot ourselves — or fixing it after they leave."
One of the unique features of the home is its concrete walls and flooring on both levels.
"A lot of builders tried to talk us out of the concrete walls," Johnson said. "We wanted to have hydronic heating in the upstairs and downstairs floors, so we needed some way to support it."
When the company they hired to put in the second floor backed out of the project, it took some quick decision-making to figure out what their plan of action would be.
"Phil, in the course of the next five weeks, finds the (steel) material, designs the floor, welds the floor and we installed it," Johnson said.
A concrete second floor is more common in commercial buildings, but it has its advantages for a residential structure as well.
"It's almost impervious to fire between floors," Ciholas said. "It's good for noise and it gives you a very solid floor. We will not have squeaky floors."
The first floor has two bedrooms — one of which will double as a safe room in case of severe weather — and an entertainment room. The second floor holds the master bedroom and a great room that includes an open living room, dining room and kitchen area with 16-foot cathedral ceilings and a set of large windows that overlooks the neighboring runway and fields.
"We can see anybody coming in and landing," Johnson said. "From up here, we figure we can sit out on our decks and see all the fireworks."
The couple hopes to have construction finished before the end of the year.
"Yes, you can build a house and stay married," Ciholas said with a chuckle.