Home building a tough sellLAKE CITY — Every year for the last three decades, the building trades class at Lincoln High School has undertaken a project as big as, well, a house.
By: Sarah Gorvin, The Republican Eagle
LAKE CITY — Every year for the last three decades, the building trades class at Lincoln High School has undertaken a project as big as, well, a house.
During the yearlong course — designed to teach students about building codes and give them valuable skills and hands-on experiences — students have constructed from start to finish a single-family home.
But this year, there was no foundation poured in August, no windows will be installed in late fall and no sod will be laid in May. It will be the first year since the early 1980s that the Lake City school won’t be building a house.
“The last couple of years, it’s been harder,” Supt. Craig Junker said of the building project. “We haven’t sold (last year’s) house, we don’t have as many kids (in the class).”
The Lake City School Board made the decision in early 2012 to cut the house project for this academic year. One of the biggest deciding factors, Junker said, was that enrollment in the building trades class has dropped considerably.
Ideally, the elective course would have about 14 students in it. This year, only seven students signed up for the class, teacher Patrick Duffy said.
“It’s a lower number than most of the classes in the school,” Duffy said.
A smaller class size means that there’s more pressure put on the teacher and students who do take the class.
“It draws out the time it takes to build,” Junker said. “There’s a tight opportunity to get things done.”
For example, all the framing work, windows and roof need to be completed before the snow falls. Fewer students means there are fewer workers.
In addition, it’s getting harder to sell the houses the class does build. Junker said that last year’s house — priced at $229,000 — is on the higher end of Lake City’s price range.
“Our market is down a little bit,” Duffy said, echoing Junker’s statements. “It’s a big responsibility financial-wise.”
The house was put up for sale in late June. So far, three people have looked at the property, but none has placed a bid. Usually, the houses the school sells just break even, so Junker said there’s not too much wiggle room on the list price.
And as temperatures get colder, the school will have to pay for things like heat and upkeep.
“The longer it goes on without selling, the more it costs,” Junker said. “We’re hoping not to lose money, but that’s a reality we’re aware of.”
Even though this year’s students won’t be constructing a house, school staff stressed that they won’t be missing out on learning any valuable skills that may help them in the future.
“What we’re trying to do is teach the same skills,” Junker said.
Duffy, with Junker and high school Principal Greg Berge, has been working to restructure the building trades class to find ways to bring the building site lessons into the classroom.
“How can we give them the same opportunity?” Berge said.
This year, the seven students will be doing slightly more bookwork than in the past, learning exact technical terms and the reasons behind building codes. Duffy said former students learned codes on the building site, but never really dove too far into them.
“They didn’t necessarily learn the why,” he said.
Students will also be building an eight-foot tall wall — complete with electrical and plumbing work — inside their classroom.
“They’ll get that exposure on a smaller scale,” Berge said.
During the second semester, students will get the opportunity to spend two weeks shadowing a local contractor, plumber or electrician. They will be able to do hands-on, real-life work, Berge said.
While still in the planning stages, the school is also looking to find a community member or business that has a residential project to work on — something like building a gazebo, shed or garage.
Duffy said homeowners would provide the materials. The students would then provide the labor and get hands-on experience.
“They’ll get all the experiences they’d have on a normal house,” Duffy said.
House for sale
The house that Lincoln High School’s building trades class constructed last year is located at 1430 Woodland Way, Lake City, in the Mississippi Jewel development.
The 3,400-square-foot house has two bedrooms and two bathrooms, custom kitchen cabinets and a two-car garage.
Supt. Craig Junker said some people may expect a house built by students to be a risky investment. But he said potential buyers also need to understand that the students were constantly supervised and taught by contractors, electricians, plumbers and other building professionals.
“Students aren’t always doing the work, but they’re always observing,” Junker said. “There’s no question that there’s no oversights. The people who have purchased (other student-built) houses can attest to that.”
The house is listed for $290,000. For more information, call 651-345-2198 or 651-764-1908.