Program gives FHS students hands-on construction experienceMost years around this time there would be a three-bedroom house taking shape on the grounds of Dakota County Technical College. This year, though, the students who do the building have something a little bigger on their minds.
By: Nathan Hansen, The Farmington Independent
Most years around this time there would be a three-bedroom house taking shape on the grounds of Dakota County Technical College. This year, though, the students who do the building have something a little bigger on their minds.
The students, who travel from Farmington High School and other schools around the county for an Intermediate School District 917 construction trades program, are lending a hand with the construction of a storage and concession building as well as two dugouts at the school’s new baseball complex. Over the course of several weeks they have dug footings, installed roofing material and installed some of the building’s facia.
DCTC brought in professional masons to lay block for the buildings, and the students are not licensed for plumbing or electrical work, but just about everything else was fair game.
“It was really cool,” instructor Paul Landwehr said. “They got to work on the footings and haul block and dig and do all the things you would do (on a construction site).
“We worked on putting in the roof structure with corrugated steel, so the kids got to work with steel, and they got to work with steel studs. They really got to see a lot.”
The change of pace was at least in part a budget decision. The house-building project has been popular among District 917 students, but it also leaves the district with a house to sell. While that hasn’t been a problem in any of the project’s previous years, Landwehr said some similar programs have had to shut down after they were unable to find a buyer for their finished product.
The program will return to building houses next year.
There are some other benefits, too. This year’s project gives students a taste of a different kind of job site. It’s also provides more opportunities for students. The main building, which will house storage, restrooms and concessions for the field, is significantly bigger than the house the students typically build. That means more things for students to do.
“When you have a building that’s 90 feet long instead of 66 feet long, you do a lot of the same repetitious types of things,” Landwehr said. “The problem, say if you build a shed, one kid gets to put up five tresses and you’re done.”
Landwehr started talking with representatives of the college two years ago about the project.
Late last week, students worked on a chilly morning to add a roof to the two 11-foot by 50-foot dugouts at the baseball field. They hauled panels of roofing material and secured them with screws and nails. Landwehr and others were there to offer instruction, but students were able to work largely on their own.
Many of the students in the construction trades class have an interest in going into construction, but not all do. Landwehr said the number who take up construction as a trade has declined since he started in the program 10 years ago. But Landwehr believes the class is valuable for students, even if all they get out of it is the skills to maintain their own homes.
Landwehr believes the program is also a good option for students who don’t plan to attend college, or who are not ready to start post-secondary education immediately after high school is over.
It also offers a new avenue for learning things like geometry, which is an important skill in construction work.
“You can figure out the Pythagorean theorem a lot easier on a deck than you can just guessing,” Landwehr said.
Farmington High School junior Tony Goodale signed up for the class because some of his friends were enrolling, and because he wanted to know more about construction. So far, he’s enjoyed himself.
“It’s kind of nice how they give us the trust to work on something this big and this expensive,” he said. “It’s kind of nice to learn this and learn to do stuff with your hands.”
Goodale said he particularly enjoys roofing, and would consider it as a summer job.
“I get in a groove,” he said.
Landwehr hopes there are other students out there who feel the same. He has just over 30 students enrolled in his class this year from nine area high schools. He used to have more than 60.
There is work out there for students who do well. The group recently toured a business that has to train its welders from within because it can’t find new candidates with the necessary skills.
In the meantime, students are hard at work.