- By: Debbie Kelley
Seventeen-year-old Dustin Carpenter didn’t see this one coming: As a junior at Mesa Ridge High in Widefield School District 3, he gets to build a house during class.
“I’m really excited for it,” Carpenter said Thursday, while preparing to help unload a truck of donated building materials.
Hands-on instruction is his favorite way to learn.
“I just prefer it, rather than being stuck in books or sitting in a classroom,” he said.
The opportunity is a result of the expansion of the Housing & Building Association of Colorado Springs’ Careers in Construction workforce development program. The curriculum started being offered in one Pikes Peak region school in 2015, as a partnership with Associated General Contractors — Colorado.
“We decided we had a labor shortage coming at us, and when we did research, we found that dropout rates had increased when vocational education got taken out of high schools,” said Renee Zentz, CEO of the HBA of Colorado Springs. “The hearts of our builders was to restart programs to teach not only professional skills but also life skills.”
The program, which leads to Department of Labor certification in general construction or electrical, plumbing and carpentry, is offered in 10 high schools in the Pikes Peak region, reaching more than 450 students.
In May, 90 students will graduate with three years of instruction, Zentz said.
“Our goal is to place every one of them (in jobs),” she said. “We’re building our own workforce, but we want to build it with high school students who understand the possibilities of the industry.”
Participating schools receive annual grants up to $30,000 for teacher stipends, materials, curriculum licensing fees, OSHA certificates and other expenses.
The program obtained 501(c)(3) nonprofit status in January and is adding the homebuilding component to bring in revenue to benefit participating schools, Zentz said.
Two schools will start building modular homes in the next few weeks on their campuses: the Manufacturing Industry Learning Lab at the Vocational Education Campus of Widefield D-3 and Peyton School District 23-JT, and Power Technical Early College, a school in the James Irwin Charter Schools network.
About $25,000 worth of donated framing materials from local companies, including lumber, engineered wood products and cribbing, were delivered to the MiLL campus Thursday.
“The first time I heard about this program, we wanted to be involved,” said Ron Lais, general manager of Builders FirstSource in Colorado Springs, which arranged the delivery.
“Colorado Springs is in the top five in home building in the country — construction is booming here — and this is going to help this community tremendously.”
Up to 75 construction technology students will work on the home, which will be built in two sections, said Nicole Carter, the MiLL’s career and technical education director.
“All the kids will have the opportunity to be involved in a real-world application, which is why we have this relationship with the HBA,” she said.
Students will learn basics and advanced skills, including job safety, measuring, electrical and plumbing, framing, painting and finishing, cleanup and other facets.
D-3 Superintendent Scott Campbell said it’s been a longtime goal that’s finally being realized.
“The partnership with the HBA brought the whole thing together,” he said, “and we’re very excited.”
Students at Power Technical now are building the cribbing — a way to hold the 1,800-square-foot home 3 feet off the ground, so trucks can pick up the finished home and transport it to a yet-to-be-determined site.
Principal Rob Daugherty estimates it will take less than a year to complete, with 100 students working in shifts.
A one-eighth scale model will help students with the project, and skilled workers from the community will train students in various aspects of the work, he said.
“It gives kids some real experience that allows them to go to the workforce with a resume of success, which is what we’re after,” he said.
Since Power Tech opened in the fall of 2016, middle and high school students have built chicken coops, sheds, tiny homes that were burned down as a Fire Department training tool and other items.
But this will be the first real home under the students’ belt.
“We need the skilled trades now more than ever,” Daugherty said. “There’s a huge shortage, and if schools aren’t offering that as an option, we lose a huge resource.
“This gives students the confidence that there is something out there for them to do besides go to a university or work in food service. And these are high-paying jobs.”
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