Since the program was started in the mid-80s, New Richmond High School students have -- with a few exceptions -- built a house from scratch as part of the Light Building Construction course.
“We have a storied tradition, I guess you’d call it,” said technology education teacher Ken Kerr. “The program was started, I want to say, in the mid-80s, so in tech ed in New Richmond we have been building houses for quite a while. The program kind of died away for a while, but then I started it back up in 1992 and 1993. Since this is the 18th house that we have built a few other things other than the house a few years between now and then. ”
The house in its current design is a two-bedroom, two-bath single story house and is built behind the high school every year. The house includes a master suite with a bedroom and bathroom. The design for the house changes every year as Kerr learns more about certain materials and to make small adjustments to the floor plan to make the layout better.
“The construction kids have done everything from the floor joists up,” Kerr said. “Everything other than the electrical and the plumbing. The kids do the siding, the roofing and the sheet rocking.”
Though the class primarily builds houses, when Kerr has been asked to take on another building project throughout the community he has jumped at the opportunity to expose his class to another kind of project. Since Kerr took over the class, students have built one of the garages at school maintenance shop next to the football field, redone the score booth at Citizens Field, built the shed outside the high school, constructed the athletic storage shed at the high school, and remodeled the kitchen in the teachers’ lounge at Paperjack Elementary.
“We’ve worked on pretty much everything and this year we are even helping build the outdoor classroom here at the high school,” Kerr said. “And from what I can gather, we are going to be working on the school farm for the ag program. It has been a really good program for kids that want to learn more about construction. We aren’t trying to turn out carpenters every year, but we are just trying to make kids aware of the different opportunities in the trades as well as the careers that are indirectly related to construction.”
The project usually gets started at the beginning of the school year after the students learn about safety, as well as foundation and wall systems. According to Kerr, the house is finished by the end of the school year, with the bid process for selling the house starting in mid-May. Then the house is removed by the beginning of August to make room for the new house.
“We will stop and I will give them demonstrations as we go along,” Kerr said. “We do some book work, but most of it is on the job, hands on and if the kids make a mistake, that is OK. We tear it apart and redo it. A lot of the kids we get in this class are very talented with their hands and can apply what they know. And if they don’t know it, we can teach them that. Usually they are dynamite at working on something.”
Though the house is built by students, Kerr feels strongly that buyers of the student-built house get a great deal, even after moving costs and having a basement built to place the house on top of.
“When people purchase this house, they know they have to spend some money to finish the house, but they are also getting a very well done stick built house with no labor costs,” Kerr said. “They do have to pay to move it and put it on a basement, but they would have that basement cost anyway. So the moving cost is the big thing. But even then, they’d be getting a house for way under what they would be able to buy it for.”
Students who take Kerr’s construction class vary from those interested in construction to those who are good with their hands, or even those who just want to learn a useful skill that they can take with them after they graduate.
“The class is pretty much the biggest shop class in the school and not a lot of schools build houses really,” said junior Chase Viebrock. “It is something to learn and with the things you learn you could build a shed or whatever you want.”
Some students have a bigger background in construction than others, but they all learn valuable lessons while in Kerr’s class.
“I’m looking at this as more of a hobby and maybe a fall back plan if I need it,” senior Chris Anez said. “I think this class is a good experience and I think more schools should have it. It is definitely a dying trade.”
And some students even come back to take the class again because they love it so much.
“I’ve been interested in building pretty much my whole high school career,” said senior Andrew Hilby, who is in his second year of taking the class. “Most of the things that we do come easy to me now since I’ve taken the class twice. It is all useful stuff to know and learn about.”