House on Wilcox Way may be the last student-built house

School houseThe student-built house on E. Wilcox Way in Jefferson may be the last such house. After a challenging two-year project that still is not complete, the Greene County board of education at its regular meeting June 18 decided to look at options other than a house for the construction class going forward.

The board has been watching the project closely. A year ago Chuck Wenthold, who teaches the class, explained to the board that the students had gotten a late start on the 1,350-square-foot house due to legal problems involved with the purchase and subdivision of the lot. The foundation wasn’t poured until November 2012 on the house that typically would have been completed during the 2012-13 school year.

The 2012-13 school year finished with the student-built house framed in but lacking a roof, doors and windows. The school district paid contractors to do those tasks to enclose the house, with the money coming from the project budget. Wenthold told the board then that the house would be completed by February of this year, and he suggested smaller projects students would complete during the third trimester.

Wenthold reported often to the board during the more recent school year. Board member Sam Harding, who has expertise in construction, has taken a special interest in the project. In March, students were putting up the ceiling; drywall had not been done. Wenthold had a construction schedule that showed a mid-May completion date. Harding encouraged Wenthold to stick to the schedule.

At last week’s meeting, Wenthold told the board the interior is painted. A contractor is installing electrical switches and outlets, and Wenthold planned to do the trim work in July after he returns from the SkillsUSA national competition in late June. Cabinets are at the house but not installed. Wenthold did not say what had delayed the project since March.

Wenthold said he has had phone calls from potential buyers of the house, but all are awaiting the sale of houses before they buy a new home.

Discussion continued about the future of the construction class. “Without the house being completed and sold, I’m reluctant to recommend that we build another house at this time. I’m not saying the program can’t continue with smaller projects,” superintendent Tim Christensen said.

Low enrollment in the class has been a big challenge. The class that started the house had only four students. The more recent class had only seven. There are five students signed up for the class for the coming school year. Wenthold said he has talked with instructors of similar classes who also are struggling with low numbers. “A couple of DMACC programs only have seven or eight, and they’re pulling from five schools. Whether it’s the time commitment, whether it’s having to work, I don’t know the cause, but I’m hearing from these guys that it’s in other places, too,” Wenthold said.

High school principal Brian Phillips said the availability of dual enrollment classes has impacted numbers in the construction class. “We have the most college credit options of anybody in our conference. Kids are pulled in many different directions, and we have to take them for a half-day in order for them to get college credit for building a house…. With all the classes kids can take, you really fight for kids,” Phillips said. He added that it was a struggle also for Dan Benitz, who taught the class until his retirement two years ago. Benitz had 11 students his last year (2011-12).

Wenthold suggested 10 students as a minimum enrollment for a successful project.

“I’d say with the numbers that signed up and the lack of this one being done, I’d be hard pressed to start another house. We’d be part way done and we’d be in the same boat we’re in now,” Harding said. “We have to figure out how to get kids interested. We need a base. You have to have enough bodies to frame walls and hang drywall.”

The board discussed smaller project, like building storage and canopies over the entrances to Linduska Field, that would provide students construction experiences.

By consensus, the board directed Wenthold to plan smaller projects for the coming year. “My intent would be to continue with the program the following year after sitting down and figuring out how to go forward,” Christensen said.

Wenthold did not provide new budget figures last week. In March, he estimated total cost to complete the house to be about $187,000. The house on E. Wilcox Way is the 17th student-built house.

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