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Young builders in training -- DL High School students build a house

Alex Gavle, left and Skye O'Brien, both juniors at Detroit Lakes High School, work on wrapping up the two-bedroom, one-bathroom house, which will be transferred to Habitat for Humanity at the end of the month.1 / 2
measure twice, cut once: Andrew Johnson, a senior at Detroit Lakes High School, says students use the old construction rule while working on a 1,332-square-foot house in Building Trades class.2 / 2

A cabinet, an ashtray, a cutting board ... these are the types of things students used to make in shop class.

In Detroit Lakes, they build a house ... a real house.

"It's pretty cool when you come out here and see that you've built the whole house that somebody is actually going to live in," said Detroit Lakes Senior Andrew Johnson.

Johnson stands with his crew, 18 other DL students, back behind the high school where a one- bedroom, one-bathroom house stands.

Two buildings trades classes (39 students in all) began building the house at the beginning of the school year, starting from scratch.

"In the fall we started laying out the floor tresses, and then we'd sheet the floor and frame the walls," explains High School Building Trades Instructor (and 1995 DL grad) Dan Jorgenson, "and then we have to get it all shingled and closed up before snow flies."

Jorgenson says the students, who are typically juniors and seniors, learn how to do it all.

"I try to get them all to try everything -- they learn about stud spacing, how to space your rafters, which direction the sheeting should go on, what fasteners to use..."

During the winter months the crew works inside the house, insulating, drywalling, taping, texturing, priming, and painting.

"Probably the hardest thing to do was the roto-zipping (sawing drywall) around the outlets and lights," said Johnson, who dabbles in residential construction during the summer months.

He admits as he learns more, he sometimes comes home and tries to tell his father, an independent contractor, how to do things.

"I try, but he just laughs at me," smiles Johnson.

The 1,332 square foot house being built by the high schoolers will go to Habitat for Humanity.

"They have their own account at the lumberyard, so we just go and get all the materials, charge it to Habitat for Humanity, and we do the rest," Jorgenson said.

The building materials for this particular house have so far cost Habitat around $26,000, not including electrical or plumbing.

Those are pretty much the only two areas the students are not allowed to do.

"We have professionals come in for that, but the students still get to be here and learn about those things," said Jorgenson.

This year the classes are made up solely of male students, but Jorgenson says he has had girls out there learning how to build.

"It's good, I get to see these kids grow ... they're good kids, and it's just fun to be able to show them these things that they'll be able to use later in life."

Senior Chris Nelson says although he's going into agronomy, he loves being out there building and learning.

"It's a good experience in case you ever want to build your own house on your own," said Nelson.

But as with any learned skill, mistakes are made.

"There's been numerous things," laughs Johnson, "You cut a piece of side too short or mess up a board, or mess up a nail or put a hole through the sheetrock..."

Rest assured though, mistakes are remedied.

"If they mess something up, we'll take it apart and do it again right; there's no half-way," assures Instructor Jorgenson.

"But he usually corrects us right away and I always ask him questions first," said Nelson.

And as for any school project, this one is being graded.

"They'll go into groups, so like for framing, I'll assign everyone a window and then that group of three or four will be graded on their own window," said Jorgenson.

However, the real grade comes at the end of the school year when the house is completed.

"We have to have all the codes met," explains Jorgenson. "The state inspector from the cities comes, and it's the same one that does Dynamic Homes because it has to be moved."

Jorgenson says because of that, this house will actually be built to more stringent standards than a standard stick-built house.

Safety is also a priority for the students, who do everything from cutting to drilling to shingling.

"Last year we got a big grant, so we got all new harnesses," Jorgenson said, "All the years I've been out here there hasn't been an incident yet -- knock on wood."

After roughly 7,200 man hours, (that's 39 students and one instructor working one hour a day, five days a week, for nine months), Habitat for Humanity will be picking the house up for their chosen residents at the end of the school year.

Due to financial restraints, Habitat for Humanity will not be entering into this same agreement with the school district next year, so school officials are going a different route.

They are now soliciting interests from private parties who would like to have the students build their house.

"Hopefully we'll get some proposals, and then we'll look through the plans to see what fits our criteria, and if we have multiple plans we'll have some way of choosing which one to go for; then we'll enter into a contract with that person," said Ted Heisserer, business manager for the Detroit Lakes School District.

Heisserer says they plan to advertise the project May to June, review plans by late June, and bring a proposal to the school board in July.

"So if someone is interested, they can contact me here, and submit some sort of a plan -- it doesn't need to be a full architectural rendition, but we just need enough detail so that we can see what we're building."

The person whose proposal is chosen then puts 10 percent down on the house and pays for all materials, plus another 10 percent for other expenses incurred to the school for tools and heating the house during winter construction.

Heisserer says although the building process is longer than normal (nine school months), the project could potentially save somebody thousands in labor costs.

"And they really do a very good job over there," Heisserer said.

To submit a proposal or to find out more on next year's project, call Ted Heisserer at 847-9271.