Student’s design will be implemented in AEA apartment

Colby Aspengren

An “authentic” learning experience for Greene County High School sophomore Colby Aspengren will add a third floor apartment on Jefferson’s courthouse square to the available rental housing.

Aspengren designed a renovation to the apartment above the Prairie Lakes AEA office, located in an 1886 building on the north side of the square. Prairie Lakes plans to move forward with the renovation, using the project as another authentic experience for students in the high school construction class next school year.

Aspengren said he took a one-trimester interior design class last year. The class uses the Chief Architect program. He said teacher Donna Carhill gave him “free rein.” “I didn’t follow directions. I’m not a step-by-step person, but I ended up being further ahead of all the other kids. I was learning more stuff on my own than what she was teaching,” he said.

“I felt like it came easily. It was a sixth period class, and I felt happy at the end of the day.”

Prairie Lakes owns the building at 118 E. State St. Administrators asked Carhill early in this school year if she had a student who could do that type of design. Carhill approached Aspengren, and suggested he could do an independent study to get course credit. He spent most of the second trimester working on it.

One of his first steps was to consult with construction teacher Chad Morman about the building. Morman determined the weight of the building is carried by its exterior walls; there are no load-bearing interior walls.

“So what I did was to gut the third floor and start over,” Aspengren said.

Living room

He created a two-bedroom apartment with an open floor plan that allows the living room, dining area and kitchen to flow easily. The building faces south, with two windows in the front. In Aspengren’s plan, one window is on the living room and the other on the master bedroom.

The job includes updating the electrical service and the plumbing. Skylights in the building are cracked; they’ll be removed.

His plan calls for using the original flooring and the current windows. The windows aren’t vintage 1886; all they need is new trim. The plaster ceiling will be repaired. The interior walls that remain after the space is gutted will be replaced with sheetrock.


Aspengren used Tricia Emery at Tri-County Lumber as a resource in pricing the project. He said his biggest surprise was the cost of kitchen cabinets. “It’s amazing how much people can spend on cabinets,” he said.

His estimate for the project is $21,470. That doesn’t include the cost of needed plumbing. Total cost is $25,000.

Part of his authentic experience included working extra hours as he got closer to the end. He said there were days he stayed at school until 7 pm, and then worked on it again at home. He’s got the Chief Architect on his computer at home, too. “I just got carried away,” he admitted.

He spent a lot of time picking out colors, a part of design he really enjoys. He settled on shades of grey with white cabinets.

There were two challenges in the project. First, Chief Architect is geared more toward new spaces than the rigid dimensions of existing construction. Aspengren said he struggled some with getting correct dimensions loaded into the program.

Second, once he finished the design he was asked to present it to Prairie Lakes administrator Jeff Herzberg and Prairie Lakes board members. He included pictures of the space as it is now and renderings of his design, his inspiration, and his cost estimates. “I’m not good talking in front of people. More than three is a large crowd to me…. My face was a little red and I was sweating bullets,” he said.

But, six weeks later he learned the Prairie Lakes board accepted his proposal and plans to move forward. Administrators were looking at the financial end of the project. They anticipate a 3-year payback.

“I really enjoyed seeing it all come together, but the happiest part was having it approved,” Aspengren said.

Greene County superintendent Tim Christensen has talked with construction teacher Morman and the local board about students working on the project. Aspengren has signed up for the class. He’ll be part of the crew turning his design into reality.


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