Archive for Thursday, February 26, 2004

Students take a hands-on approach

February 26, 2004

The sound of hammering is the sound of grades being earned -- and of a house being built.

For the sixth year, the Tonganoxie High School's building trades classes have constructed a house to sell. Normally, the houses are auctioned during the spring.

But this year, as last year, students aren't waiting for an auction to tell them if their house will sell. A year ago, the classes built a custom house on private property just behind the school. And this year, though the home they're in the midst of building is still on school property, it's already been sold. Which makes it nice, said teacher Steve Hughes, because the buyers can order what they want. For instance, this year's home is being constructed so that it's completely handicapped accessible. This means lower cabinet tops, wider doorways and reinforced walls for the installation of pull up rails.

It's a good deal for the homebuyer, who gets a house for less than $40,000 (in addition, the buyer will pay for the cost of moving the house), and it's a good deal for Hughes, who gets to spend his afternoons with his students.

Learning for the future

The teens seem to like their work, as well. As Justin Walker perched on a ladder installing an attic fan, he vouched his approval.

"It's hands-on, it's not book work," Walker said.

Travis Schultz agreed. "It's pretty interesting -- you learn new stuff every day," he said.

Clay Lamb said he has worked in construction with his father, and plans to build houses someday.

"It's definitely worth it," Lamb said. "Like they said, it's a lot of hands-on stuff."

And, he said, for the most part, the students learn to work with the basics.

"We drive all the nails by hand," Lamb said.

Ryan Baker, who is taking the course for the fourth time, said what he's learning in the class now will help him later.

"I think it's good to know in the future if you ever wanted to do anything on your own home," Baker said.

Luke McCarty said he appreciates the opportunity to learn the building process while in high school.

"It gives you a good feel of how to build a house -- we do everything -- we frame it, roof it, wire it."

Hughes said some of the work is contracted, such as the Sheetrock, cabinets and plumbing. And each house is approved by the city's building inspector.

Hughes said the selling price of the homes has covered the materials. Any funds left over is rolled back into the fund for the next year. Hughes noted the students' work on the house ends on the last day of school. Anything needed to be done after that is the buyer's responsibility.

Former student's praise

If all goes as planned, sometime this summer, Leonard and Grace Wake will move into the home the students built.

Their son, Leonard Wake Jr., approached Hughes last August about having his class build a home for his parents, who live near him about 10 miles north of Tonganoxie.

Wake said his mother, Grace, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis about 16 years ago. Because she uses a wheelchair part of the time, Wake wanted to ensure the house would be accessible.

By purchasing it before it was built, rather than after, Wake knew it would be suitable for his parents.

Although Wake, a 1988 THS graduate, is a former student of Hughes', he took his classes before they started building houses. He's been impressed with what the students are learning.

"It teaches a lot of students," Wake said. "It teaches me a lot just going down there and taking a look. I think it's an extra plus to the school district and to the students who take the opportunity to benefit from it."

Wake described Hughes as patient.

"With a teacher like Mr. Hughes, you would have to go in there and try not to learn -- not to learn anything."

Students working on this year's house are: Josh Blanks, Chris Clark, Cody Owsley, Ross Starcher, Austin Wilson, Terrance Bailey, Mike Hunter, Kaleb Lawrence, Matt Madeira, Lucas Mark, Dan O'Hare, Joseph Saheb, Michael Tate, James Torneden, Clay Lamb, Luke McCarty, Mark O'Brien, Travis Schultz, Justin Walker and Ryan Baker.

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