December 29, 2023

Construction Trades class to build new home

Constructions Trades Class
Construction Trades Class

in the Village of Berrien Springs

By Kathy Pullano, Editor and Owner of The Journal Era Newspaper

The student members of the county-wide Career Technical Education course, Construction Trades, which is offered through Berrien Springs Public Schools and led by instructor Larry Jackson, has started to build a new, 1,100-square-foot single story Ranch house at 611 N.  Mechanic Street in Berrien Springs. Jackson began pursuing the project in May, and for him it is a dream come true.

"It has been a dream of mine for last 20 years in terms of having my students build a house from the ground up," he said. "What better way to impact your community than by putting a home in your community that can be there for the next 50 to 100 years so that the students can see what they have done, and their (future) kids can see what they have done--that's  pretty cool." Jackson's goal is to have the house built over 1 1/2 years, with the students doing 85 to 90 percent of the work. Pete Anderson, the CTE Director for the school district, is looking forward to watching Jackson and his students work on the "ultimate building/learning project." "I am excited for the kids and the program--anytime you can put property back to use with a home to serve a family--it is a win-win-win for the students, the community, and the family that will have a home." 

Anderson noted that students learn about the importance of neighborhood and community through such a project. "We hope to start doing more of these projects in the future," he said. "To turn vacant properties over and make them available for families." "This will be a true construction experience for the kids," Anderson emphasized. "They will learn all phases of home building, starting from the ground up." He estimated that building the home will cost approximately $150,000 and that the district will recoup its costs when it is sold. The vacant lot was sold to the school district for $19,000 by the Village of Berrien Springs, which owned it after taking possession of the dilapidated home on it and having it torn down.

Juniors Noah Jarvis and Alex O'Dell, Jr., and senior Natalie Griffiths are among the Construction Trades students who will be working on the project. "It will be a good learning experience," they said, noting that they have created a "practice house" at their Construction Trades building to help guide them through the process under the direction of instructor Larry Jackson. The "practice house" is being used to teach them how to lay floors, frame walls, set trusses and deck the roof.  The single story Ranch home will have three bedrooms, two baths, a two-car garage in the back, and a full, unfinished basement. "As soon as the walls are in, we will start with framing," they said. "This will really set us up for the future." This is Griffiths second year in the program, and she plans on pursuing a career in the field. Jarvis has already had offers after high school to work in construction, and O'Dell is considering going into some type of related construction trade after high school. The students are looking forward to learning how to do all the carpentry work involved with a house, and some of the electrical. Experts will be brought in for electrical, plumbing and HVAC work, and they will work with the students as the project advances.

Construction Trades instructor Larry Jackson, who asked the school district to fund the hands-on learning project, is a licensed contractor, and operates A-1 Walls and Ceiling Specialists in St. Joseph He has been in business for almost 30 years. He wrote a five-year plan for the Construction Trades program, and within the plan was the goal to buy an open lot in the village. "I contacted realtor Howard McLauchlin, and we met a few times out at properties," Jackson said. "He thought this would be a good one. I met with Berrien Springs Village Council President Barry Gravitt and discussed the process. I met with the leadership at Berrien Springs Public Schools. We connected all the dots to make it happen."

Jackson has been working with a 5th year senior architect student from Andrews University, Jack Bendell, to help design the house. "The village was nice enough to sell the property to the school district, and the district believes in the five-year plan," Jackson said. "This will impact the community by providing a home for a family and getting the house on the tax rolls."

"This shows how those three entities can work together to impact the community by building this house," he emphasized. "This will give students from all over the county--Berrien Springs, Lakeshore, St. Joseph, Niles Eau Claire, Brandywine, and Buchanan a chance to build relationships with students from other schools on this project and to develop lifelong friendships." Jackson has two sets of students he works with each week from all over the county during a morning class that is held from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. and an afternoon class that is held from noon to 2 p.m. Participation in Construction Trades has increased since he took over the program and he has 20 students in his morning class and 21 in his afternoon class; there is now a waiting list.

Jackson is looking forward to working with all of his students to put a new house on the village lot. "We will use local subcontractors for electrical, plumbing , and excavating, but use these partnerships to have our students work along side these professionals," he said. "These students will learn a trade and have job opportunities. This is a win-win for employers and students who will experience all the different jobs involved in building a home." Students will also learn how to order materials, how to read blueprints, how to drywall, wall framing, how to build a sub-floor, basic electrical and plumbing, how to set trusses, roofing, how to set doors and windows, construction math, and so much more. He noted that any local contractors who want to partner with him on the house project should contact him through the school.

Jackson teaches the Career Connections curriculum through the United Brotherhood of Carpenters. Students will learn everything related to OSHA 10 certification.  "The students earn a certificate from the Carpenter's Union upon completion of the program," he said. The students have been building two 14 by 20 mini-houses to help them learn entry level skills and grasp the entire facet of home construction. Jackson noted that he began working on obtaining this lot for the house-building project for students in May of 2023. He is grateful to the school district for its support of this learning lifelong skills project for his students. The district will supply all the materials needed to build the home, and when it is sold, the district will be reimbursed; any funds left over will be invested into future construction projects that advance learning and job opportunities for students enrolled in the program.

Berrien Springs Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Tom Bruce praised Jackson for his hard work towards making the house building project a reality. "I am happy all the entities were able to work together to bring this project to fruition," Dr. Bruce said. "It took a little bit of planning; there was a lot of background work. Larry was a big piece of that as he kept things moving in the beginning." Anything made from the sale of the house will go towards expenses and future projects for the program. "The idea is that the property, cost, services, and materials would all be less than what we will have for a purchase price of the home; any money leftover would go into the program for next year to continue the cycle," he said. "By law, we can't make a profit off of it; it has to go back into the program."Building the home will be a critical learning experience for the students, and it builds upon previous instruction. "Prior to this program, the students were building portions and elements of a home indoors on a smaller scale," he said. "Now, they have a two year project where they are assisting local contractors and building the entire home. Year one,  it's basically exterior work and year two is basically interior work."

Dr. Bruce is looking forward to watching the house go up over the next two years. "I drive by it at least once a week already to see their progress," he said. "The foundation has been excavated and the forms are in the hole--once it comes out of the ground it will go fast. If we have a mild winter, it will help a lot." The district is pleased to use this learning experience to provide a home for a family, he said. "I think the best part is, we took a vacant lot in the community, and will build a house on it to teach our students valuable skills," Dr. Bruce said. "They will connect and learn from local contractors to build a deserving home for a local family."


Please note that this article, published on the district's website, was provided and written by Kathy Pullano, Editor and Owner of the Journal Era Newspaper. The Journal Era is a local newspaper distributed in the Berrien Springs area, and its office is located at 101 W Ferry Street in Berrien Springs, MI.