Lessons they can build on

Education: Teen plumbers, carpenters, welders, masons and others construct a real house.

March 13, 2005|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

Amid shrieking machinery, teenagers hustle around, wielding nail guns in the bedroom, screwing hinges in the bathroom and installing lights in the hallway.

This is the house that CAT North built.

At Anne Arundel County's Center for Applied Technology North, about 100 students in construction-trades programs such as plumbing and carpentry are practicing their skills on a house that will be sold to and inhabited by real homebuyers.

That knowledge has filled students with motivation for their work. "You're building something that people are going to be living in for years and years," said Northeast High School senior Shawn Campbell of Glen Burnie, after he sawed a piece of trim.

Students will continue to work on sections of the two-story modular house in the school's "live projects area" until it is trucked to its lot and assembled on its foundation. Students will then be bused out to the nearby site to complete the home by the end of the school year.

The Anne Arundel County Students Construction Trades Foundation Inc., a nonprofit group founded in 1988, sponsors the house-building project.

Its members, who include bankers, insurance brokers, lawyers and others involved in the construction trades, organize the purchase of a lot, hire contractors for jobs the students can't handle and coordinate its eventual sale. The foundation then funnels the proceeds into a future project.

"This was a way to build something the kids in the program could see come to fruition," said foundation board president Boyd M. Martin II.

Businesses also lend their professional expertise and influence to the project, school officials said.

This is the first house the center has tackled since 1999, because of rising costs for a dwindling supply of land near the Severn school. Students at the northern center and its Edgewater counterpart have instead constructed portable classrooms for the school system. In Severn, a group of students, mostly sophomores, is working on a classroom while juniors and seniors build the house.

Only a few trades work on the classrooms, said Ed Bury, special projects coordinator at the northern center.

"Everyone gets involved in the house," he said, including plumbing and HVAC students. Welding students may fashion a railing or two. Those in the masonry program will create a brick veneer on the front while others install vinyl siding elsewhere.

The activity will be a departure from masonry work at the center, where students don't use real cement. Instead, they use a lime-based mortar that crumbles easily, so projects can be disassembled without much effort.

With the house, "they get to have the ownership of something without having to tear it back down," said Principal John H. Hammond.

Students have learned real-world lessons. For example, the school must apply for the necessary permits for the house. Teachers include lessons about the paperwork in their curriculum, he said.

Also, Hammond said, "we're up against a time frame here, as any builder would be."

Contractors couldn't pour the concrete foundation earlier this month as planned because of the unexpected snow. Students also lost production days when school closed. Teachers had to tell them to step up the pace.

"We can get ours done within a year, because it's within the building," he said.

The work was not without errors, said electricity teacher Chris Erickson. For example, his students ended up cutting larger holes in Sheetrock than necessary for some wiring, which required patching by carpentry students.

Now, "they know what a slight mistake will cost," Erickson said.

School officials said the four-bedroom, 2 1/2 -bathroom Colonial house, listed at $348,900, is under contract and will be ready by June 1.

"We wanted the kids to see it from start to finish," Hammond said.

It's clear that students are motivated and proud. Absenteeism is low, and some have even returned after school to work on it, Hammond said.

And for years, the house will remain as a testament to their hard work.

"They get to ride by and say they built that," he said.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.