Tribune-Courier News Reporter
It’s not an uncommon practice for a contractor and his or her team to build a house in less than a year’s time, but when the contractor is a high school teacher and his team is comprised of high school carpentry students the feat becomes noteworthy.
For more than 20 years the Marshall County High School carpentry classes have spent their class time learning carpentry and woodworking skills by building a house that is completely designed and built by students.
Shane Darnall, carpentry teacher at MCHS, said every year he and the students try to come up with a twist on the home-building project, and this year they’ve decided to build a “Made in the U.S.A.” house.
“The MCHS carpentry class builds a house for skill practice every year, but the house this year will be built using 100 percent made in the U.S.A. materials – every screw, bolt and nail,” he said.
The idea to build a house completely from domestic materials came to Darnall from a TV series that highlighted a contractor who used only materials that were made in the U.S. in his projects.
“I was watching that show and it was impressive how that buying materials made in the U.S. you could help boost the economy,” he said. “It’s pretty significant. So when we decided on this idea we partnered with (Calvert City Lumber Co.) and I told them what we were trying to do and they agreed to finding us those materials.”
Darnall said that while it was common for domestically made products to cost more than internationally made products, building the house with domestic products should only increase the amount the school will spend by around one percent.
When the high school first started the house-building project for carpentry students Keith Johnson, the carpentry instructor at the time, approached the Board of Education to ask for funding. After discussions the board agreed to match any funds that he could find from external systems and Johnson found a $6,000 sponsor.
The first class built the house for $12,000, but with the rising cost of building materials the budget has escalated to $20,000.
Darnall said he was part of the house-building project while he attended MCHS and after graduating in 1994 it left a lasting impression on him.
“We try to set it up like a real job,” he said. “I guide them, but let them make their own mistakes. There’s 25 to a class so it’s more help than they’d have on a construction site, but it’s great practice for them.”
The house built last year is still on site at MCHS, but has been purchased by Dennis Smith, president of Pinnacle Inc., for $17,000. Once the house has been moved off of the property – at the buyer’s expense – and the students come up with the floor plan, the students will begin building the “Made in the U.S.A.” house.
There are about 75 students that will work on the house this school year, allowing for the project to be completed by next May.
Each student will have a part in the project, and Darnall said the roles of each student would be determined by his or her skill sets.
“It’s really a team effort because the students in each class are on about the same level of training,” he said. “Some students are naturally better at certain things. Layout is more difficult for some to grasp, so we try to match each student with their abilities.”
Darnall said the students come up with the layout of the house, but he has set restrictions that the houses must have three bedrooms and two bathrooms. He said last year’s home was 1,150-square-foot and 26 feet by 44 feet.
“This project is really all about getting the students ready for the workforce,” he said. “A home-building project like this is a jump start on everyone else. A jump start on the knowledge that’ll be required.”
Students completing the four carpentry classes Darnall teaches can receive a National Center for Construction Education and Research certification, which puts the student’s names into a national data bank as being qualified for employment.
“The courses we teach here in carpentry are taught similarly at post-secondary schools as well,” he said. “The only thing these students don’t do is the plumbing and the electric work. The exterior, though, is completely done when it’s sold.”
Shane Barrett, sophomore and student in one of the carpentry classes, said the “Made in the U.S.A.” house will be the second he’s worked on.
He said he wasn’t sure that he wanted to actually do similar work once he graduated, but thinks it’s an excellent hobby.
“It’s neat – it’s something different to build a house and it’s neat that this year it’s something different and that we’re using stuff made in the U.S.A.,” he said.