Written by Don Ratzlaff Wednesday, 21 November 2007 07:26
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|Members of the afternoon session of the first Construction Technology class stand in the basement of the house they and fellow students are building at the corner of Hudson and Roosevelt in Marion. Pictured are: back row Hector Cardenas (junior), Jake Bredemeier (senior); front, Andy Kelsey (junior), Lanna Carroll (senior), Dillon Wildin (sophomore) and instructor Lucas King. Don Ratzlaff
Whether you do it for a living or as a weekend do-it-yourselfer, house construction is always a learning experience.
Marion High School has formalized the learning process somewhat with the start of its Construction Technology program this fall.
In its first year, the class has three sections of about a half-dozen students each. Two sections meet during the morning hours on alternate days of week while the third meets every day during the afternoon.
The class will last the entire school year, although students can opt out at the semester break if they choose.
Under the instruction of Lucas King, the three sections are working together like a tag team to build a 1,450-square-foot, four-bedroom, three-bath house that eventually will be sold to a local buyer.
“We didn’t model it after anybody else, but there are some other programs like this out there,” said Superintendent Lee Leiker, mentioning Halstead and McPherson as nearby examples.
“They’re becoming more popular.”
Meeting student needs
Leiker said the idea for USD 408’s program emerged from conversations between the district’s board of education, curriculum committee and vocational education committee.
“Our conversations were that maybe we’re not meeting the needs of all our students by offering the usual classes throughout the day,” Leiker said.
“Maybe some hands-on things could give some skills and spark some interest for students so that maybe they’d come back and relocate in Marion someday and have that kind of business,” he added.
As planning progressed, the decision was made to build an actual house rather than to address construction techniques by using models in a lab setting.
“There are two ways you can build a house,” Leiker said. “One is you can build it at your school site and then move it someplace. We chose, because of the tight confinement on our high school campus, to go the route of going to a lot and building it on-site.
“That’s working very well.”
Before launching the program, Leiker said he called a meeting of local business people who are involved in the local housing industry in one form or another.
“We wanted to make sure they knew that we were not trying to infringe on anybody’s occupation, but that we wanted to teach it at school so some of the students might work for them in the summertime and maybe stay here and do something in Marion someday.”
Leiker said community support has been “very positive” from the start. Several contractors have let the class borrow the specialized tools they might be lacking. Others have offered their skills and services.
Another key piece of the puzzle was securing King to lead the class. It was the uniqueness of the new program that prompted the Marion native to move back to his hometown from Colorado.
“I always enjoyed doing this kind of thing growing up,” King said of construction. “It’s been a way to supplement my teaching salary. In Colorado I worked for a custom-home builder and started doing it by myself.
“It’s great to be around kids and also be outside doing stuff I enjoy doing,” he said of his new role.
The first house is going up at the corner of Hudson and Roosevelt streets on a lot owned by local resident Brad Seacat, who has become a key player in the program’s inaugural year.
“He’s been instrumental in helping get this off the ground,” Leiker said.
Not only was Seacat willing to let the class build the house, which is being developed on speculation for future sale, but as owner of Seacat Lumber, he is the source for materials.
“He’s the one who is really funding the materials for this lot,” Leiker said.
Seacat—and other local developers in the future—do gain some economic benefits through lower labor costs.
“It’s basically a percent that the district gets for building,” Leiker said of the arrangement.
“The district’s intent isn’t to make money at it,” he added. “The little bit we make we want to put back into the program. We want to keep our tools upgraded and let our students use nice equipment.”
As with most first attempts, the inaugural effort has met with some challenges. Scheduling difficulties with subcontractors has put the project behind the preferred schedule.
Nearly three months into the school year, the foundation and basement floor is finally poured, enabling students to become involved in a hands-on way.
“Ideally, we wanted to be at this stage on Day 1,” King said. “It didn’t work out like that this year with scheduling. Hett Construction came in and put up the stem walls and we’re doing all the flat work.”
Students laid the peripheral drain around the base of the basement, and have tarred the exterior basement walls, backfilled the dirt, put in the window wells and poured the basement floor. Some tasks, like wiring and plumbing, will require the assistance of subcontractors.
“With building codes, we’ll have to have licensed people here probably while we do it,” King said. “We’re going to do as much as we can and kind of get their feet wet. We’ll hang the Sheetrock and probably finish the garage, but not house. We’ll hire that. That’s kind of a tough thing to learn how to do when you’re starting out.”
When delays or bad weather prevent students from working at the site, they pursue alternate learning experiences.
“We research different construction methods, such as different floor trusses and roof lines, and new-technology techniques used in construction,” King said. “The kids also are doing a career PowerPoint presentation where they research 10 careers in construction and present that to the class.”
The students also have had the opportunity to observe other construction environments, including the erection of a steel building in the town’s industrial park and the district’s own efforts to build new facilities.
Seeing various applications is a learning experience in itself.
“For example, (students) poured a basement floor in the house that they’re building—so they know the struggles of doing that,” Leiker said. “Then they got to come over and watch them pour the basement of our sports-and-wellness complex and see the big equipment.
“They really got an appreciation of how much the field of construction can vary,” he added. “It sparked an interest in students to see that difference. One student commented, ‘I think we ought to research construction technology,’ because they saw some tremendous technology on our site.”
Looking to the future
Even with the late start on the house, King said—in a firm tone—that project will be done by the end of the school year.
He and Leiker are already anticipating next year’s project.
“I think if people see this house as a success, they might be interested in having the school build a house for them,” Leiker said. “It just has to be with the understanding that it’s going to take longer than a traditional construction company would do it.
“You have to be patient on a project like this because we are teaching skills along the way. We want students to understand why things are done when you build a house to make the construction sound.”
If another private developer isn’t found, Leiker said, the school could build and sell its own spec house.
Leiker said when the enrollment didn’t fill the program to capacity this fall, the district extended an invitation for students to neighboring schools in Hillsboro and Peabody.
“With it being an extended amount of time, like three hours in the afternoon, they can come up and be here, and make it worth their while,” he said.
Neither school took up the offer this year, but it remains a possibility for the future.
“If it’s going to be a benefit to some of their students, we’d love to do that,” Leiker said. “That offer is still out there.”
Overall, he said the program has been successful, thanks in large part to its instructor.
“Lucas is doing a great job,” Leiker said. “It’s an area that he really loves. There’s nothing better than to see the passion an instructor has for teaching—and he has that. He loves constructionn and is able to teach students some beneficial skills.”