Second Student Built Home Under Construction, New Owners of First Student Built Home Snug As A Bug
Hammers are swinging, scaffolding is up and classes have started at the construction site on a cul-de-sac on Corporate Drive in Kalispell. That all means that the latest project is underway for this year’s Student Built Home classroom at Flathead High School. Part of the Career and Technical Education program, or CTE, at Kalispell Public School—the program aims to give students a leg up when it comes to finding work in the ‘middle skilled’ workforce.
The middle skilled workforce is the largest and fastest growing portion of the labor market in the United States. Middle skilled means jobs that require education beyond high school but do not require a four-year degree. And construction, particularly in Montana, is a highly sought after skill. 53% of all jobs in Montana are classified as middle-skilled.
“We created this to respond to a skilled labor shortage in the workforce,” lead instructor for the Student Built Home project, Brock Anderson explained. “You call any contractor in the valley and ask if they need workers, their answer will be yes. I have contractors calling me left and right, asking if they can hire some of these students.”
Anderson noted that the pace of the on-site classroom and two volunteer instructors are critical to the success of the program. Volunteers Kirk Hammerquist and Tim McLean donate their time to impart skills that only years of experience earn. Between both Kirk and Tim, they represent over 50 years in the construction industry.
According to Anderson, the time that these volunteers take to impart real construction skills are essential to the program’s success.
“Our volunteers have the skills set and the patience to give these kids a leg up. The guys with this kind of knowledge are retiring. But through this program, these students are learning skills that they wouldn’t ever have time to learn on the jobsite,” Anderson explained. “We couldn’t do it without these volunteers.”
Community donations are also at the heart of the success of the program—from materials to website hosting, the success of each student built home represents a community of supporters. And what that community of supporters is able to build is an opportunity for learning that is unique—in the nation and in Montana.
“We’re one big applied science laboratory,” Anderson explained, “These kids do math everyday, they learn about composite materials. They calculate using strength load formulas and compute volume.”
They also learn the pace of the real world.
“When concrete is coming, the concrete is coming.” Anderson noted, “You can’t ask for an extension on that homework.”
The student built home that was completed in May 2016 sits some two blocks away the current under-construction home. New owners Heidi Escalante and Michael Hodges commented on the attention to detail, heating efficiency and poured concrete as their favorite features.
Profits from the sale of the first student built home were used towards the purchase of the land for this student home. While co-signers were needed to secure this year’s loan—and community donations keep budgets on track, Anderson expects the program to be self-sufficient in five years.
The program has received national attention because of its blend of curriculum and real life experience, particularly as it applies to middle skills development.