Driving on 44th Avenue South, passersby can’t tell the crew installing siding on a home there is made up of high school students.
The students, putting the finishing touches on the 17th home built and sold by the school district, are just happy to be outside after a long winter.
“We definitely fought with the weather this year,” said Ben Moen, instructor of the building trades class. “But the kids like that they get to leave school and come to do something different. This is good for the kids, no doubt about it.”
Each year, students from Grand Forks Central and Red River build a house for the building trades class. This year, juniors and seniors built a 3,200-square-foot split-level home that sold for $390,000.
Between roughly $25,000 and $30,000 of that is profit, all of which goes directly back into the program, according to Eric Ripley, the executive director of the Career and Technical Education program.
Moen said profits from the previous houses go toward purchasing the land for future houses, along with materials and tools for the building trades class. That profit also goes toward hiring contractors for certain jobs students can’t do, like plumbing and electrical.
The house on 44th Avenue South was on the market for less than a week. Moen said most of the years he has been the lead instructor for the program, the house has sold before his class could finish building it. Moen has been the instructor of the program for six years.
To sell the house, the School Board works with the city's Board of Realtors. Moen said the buyer of this year's house hopes to close on May 31.
There is still work to be done on the outside of the house, he said, but he and his students can get it done by then.
Earlier this week as students worked to put dark blue siding on the house, Moen quizzed them on next steps and best practices.
“You can’t nail it like that there. Why?” Moen asks one of the students.
‘From the foundation to finishing touches’
Building the house takes almost a full year. Students work throughout the winter, so it is important to get the house enclosed by the end of fall, Ripley said.
To achieve that goal, there is a small group that does work in the summertime. This work includes laying the foundation and subfloor. Students get paid for the summer work and can also get class credit.
There are prerequisite classes required. In those introductory courses, students learn the beginning steps of carpentry and eventually build a shed, Ripley said.
“Students learn to use power tools, framing and other skills,” Ripley said. “And the capstone of that program is building a house.”
The course is two hours long. Thirty minutes of that time is allotted for driving to the building site and an hour and a half is spent building the house. Students have the ability to do framing, siding and shingles. Inside, they hang drywall, paint and install hardwood floors. For some jobs, professionals are hired.
“There are aspects of building a house beyond the skill set of what the course can cover,” Ripley said. “Plumbing, for example. We have to hire someone to come in and serve as plumber. We also need to hire out a certified electrician. Students can help run wires and they can connect wires, but we need certified people for some things.”
Ripley said 32 students will be in next year’s class, which is the highest enrollment he can recall.
Since the program started about 20 years ago, classes have gotten larger and larger. Back then, students would build a house in the parking lot of Red River High School and it would then be moved. to a lot This is the 17th year students have been building off school grounds.
“Now that we’re building on site, that gives students the ability to have the full experience, from laying foundation to the finishing touches of landscaping on the house,” Ripley said.
The class also prepares students for the real world of construction. Moen said he “absolutely” treats the project like a job and his students do, too.
By now, Ripley said, the program has a good reputation in town.
“The myth may be, ‘well this house is built by high school students (and) that somehow lowers the quality.’ But we build one house a year. We’re not rushing,” Ripley said. “This is an extension of the classroom, so if something isn’t done right, students do it again until they get it right.”