Vo-tech program gives students a chance to build skills

Classical music plays in the background while six Hillsboro High School students help build a 1,456 square-foot house on the grounds of the Newton Vocational-Technical School.

“That’s what the teacher likes is classical music, and that’s the only thing he’ll play,” said HHS senior Brandon Bartel about instructor Don Molgren.

“After a while, you get used to it and actually like it.”

Bartel and five other HHS students travel to Newton five mornings a week to learn carpentry skills as they build a house together.

The other students from HHS are senior Billy Winegarner and juniors Luke Lilly, Brandon Moss and Justin Hein.

They are enrolled in a building-trades program offered by Hutchinson Community College and Newton High School in the Area Vo-Tech School building west of NHS.

“We teach career and technical education,” Molgren said.

“The purpose of the program is to give (students) some basic entry-level skills so they can go out and get a job in the construction field. That’s the primary purpose-to give them a head start when they get out of school.”

And the purpose of the classical music?

“It helps to subdue and relax the students,” Molgren said. “If you let them listen to what they like, then they get too hyper. So this helps them relax and me, too.”

Taking advantage of the vo-tech program are post-secondary students and high-school students in grades 10 through 12. In addition to students from HHS, the program attracts teens from other schools, such as Marion, Goessel and Hesston.

Students from HHS ride a school bus to Newton Monday through Friday morning to learn a trade while still in high school.

They are can take Building Trades I their junior year and a more advanced course-Building Trades II-their senior year.

Molgren said the program has been offered for about 30 years, and the last 24 years have been under his instruction.

That adds up to 24 houses Molgren and his students have built.

Each house is completed at the end of the school year and then sold.

In the past, the student-built house was constructed on a lot off campus and auctioned to the highest bidder.

But for the last four years, the structure has been built on campus.

And for the first time, the house is being offered for sale at the beginning of the year instead of waiting to auction it at the end of the year.

“Our hope is to pre-sell the house,” said Joanelle Williamson, coordinator for Career and Technical Education Programs at Hutchinson Community College and NHS.

“Then we would have the proceeds from that to go ahead and start next year’s house.”

On an overcast day last week, light rain steadily drizzled down on the students as they worked on their house.

But Bartel and Lilly, wearing hard hats covered with rain drops, had smiles on their faces when they talked about what they were learning.

“It’s been a blast,” Lilly said. “I’ve really enjoyed it. You learn a lot of teamwork because you’re out here. And other people who don’t know how to do something, you can help them out.”

Bartel agreed and said: “It doesn’t take one person to build a house. You’ve got to work together and communicate well. There’s a lot of stuff you don’t know about that you will learn.”

Both Bartel and Lilly said they plan to be carpenters when they graduate from high school.

“After two years here and after you pass your (classes), you should get certified,” Bartel said.

Lilly said he’s learned about his future trade and fined tuned such skills as framing, “laying out an entire house,” roofing and shingling.

“I didn’t know how to do any of that,” he said.

The HHS bus arrives on the vo-tech campus at about 7:55 a.m. and leaves about 11:20 a.m.

Lilly has chosen to take two back-to-back sessions of the Building Trades I class.

Bartel completed Building Trades I last year and takes one Building Trades II class this year. In addition to that class, he also takes an auto-mechanics course at the school.

The only cost for the students is the money they pay for their own tools-about $50 to $70-at the beginning on the school year.

“We usually get out here a month after school starts and start the actual working,” Bartel said. “We’ll lay down some parts and act like we’re building the house. Then we’ll disassemble it, get the real lumber in and actually start building the house.”

In addition to building a house together, the students receive classroom work, written assignments and take tests over what they’ve learned throughout the instruction. At the end of the school year, they earn a grade and a high-school credit.

The home-in-progress has three bedrooms, 1 3/4 baths, a kitchen, laundry area, eating area and “large living room,” Molgren said.

“The kids take it up to finishing the inside-painting and putting up all the trim, cabinets and light fixtures.”

Second-year students are entrusted with the plumbing, and this year they will also be doing the electrical work.

“We have some electrical contractors who are volunteering their time to come in and show the kids how to do that,” Molgren said.

Not included in the completed home are such items as floor covering, appliances and heating and cooling units.

The house will be finished with masonite siding and painted. And it’s constructed so that a garage could be added to one side.

“There won’t be any siding on that side,” Williamson said. “So whoever buys it and moves it onto their lot, they will need to put a garage on there.”

The sooner the house is sold, the better the chance for a new owner to have more input into the construction of the house, she said.

“If someone would come in and buy it very soon, there are some things that they would be able to control.”

Judging by what the house has sold in the past, Williamson said the program goal is to sell this one for no less than $45,000.

The new owner would have to pay to have the house moved off the campus. They would also have to consider the cost for a garage addition, heating and cooling-unit installation and an optional basement to fit the dimensions of the house.

“Of course, there’s the purchase of their lot, too,” Williamson said. “But when you look at about $20,000 to $25,000 they may have to put on top of (the $45,000), I think that is excellent.”

There has been only one major problem since the decision was made to build the house on campus, Molgren said.

“Most developments won’t let you bring in a house, because they consider anything built someplace else to be a manufactured home. So their covenants say, ‘no manufactured home,’ although it’s built the same as their houses.”

Therefore, most of the campus houses have been sold to people who live in the country and don’t have to deal with homeowners’ restrictions, he said.

Williamson offered two phone numbers for anyone who wants more information on purchasing this year’s home. They can reach her at 316-284-6280, ext. 2907 or call Gary Jantz at 316-284-6212.

Diana Holub, HHS counselor said the program was important for those students who were looking for technical education instead of a college curriculum.

“Those who are interested in the vo-tech school, we encourage them to go through that program because it helps them to save on their cost to get their training,” she said. “They’ve already earned their hours, and they can go ahead and get a job when they graduate from high school.”

And what do Bartel and Lilly, unofficial ambassadors of the vo-tech program, want others students to know about the value of learning to build a house and beginning a career in carpentry?

“I just recommend if you like the vocational area, building stuff and working with your hands, this is the class to take,” Bartel said.

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