Students uphold tradition, raise house

FAIRMONT – For decades, Fairmont High School students upheld the tradition of building a house during the school year and watching it be sold to the highest bidder, but the past few years have prompted the build-then-auction policy to be revamped.

This year, about a dozen students in the building trades class meet every weekday afternoon in the 1900 block of South Prairie Avenue to assist in the construction of a new home for Brad and Tara Haugen. While the students still gain hands-on construction experience, the school district bears no financial responsibility for the project.

The house the buildings trades class completed in the 2009-10 school year carried a reserve price of $38,000, which covered materials, when it made a futile appearance on the auction block. It eventually was sold to Habitat for Humanity of Martin and Faribault Counties for $36,000.

Two years later, with total for construction materials surpassing $40,000, no bids were received, prompting school officials to give serious consideration to terminating the project.

“They talked about not having a construction trades class,” Brad Haugen recalled. As a district teacher himself, he hoped he could prevent elimination of the class.

The Haugens, who were planning to build a new house, approached school officials with a proposal: Instead of building a house on the school site, could the building trades class work as a subcontractor and build a house for them off-site?

“We wondered, ‘Is this going to be possible? Is it going to help the class?'” Haugen said.

It was possible, and it has helped the class – and the Haugens.

“It’s a win-win,” said Keith Anderson, building trades instructor. “It’s free of risk for the school because there’s no financial liability for the school, and the Haugens get a little free labor.”

Anderson said there was some red tape to unravel, such as parental permission slips, before the class was allowed to work off-site. Hertzke Construction and Millworks serves as general contractor for the project and welcomed the assistance from the students.

The class, comprised 16- to 18-year-olds, is limited in what they are allowed to do, Anderson said.

“It’s strictly construction. We can’t touch the electrical or the plumbing,” he said. The students also are prevented from working in certain areas, such as the roof of the main structure, which is 27 feet high at its steep peak. However, the garage roof was deemed low enough for class participation.

Anderson hoped the house would be enclosed by the end of the holiday break. He has set a class goal of finishing the sheetrock, painting and trimming out the house by the end of the school year.

“You’ve got goals. Then reality sets in,” he laughed.

“The goal is just the ‘end of the school year,'” Haugen said. “We didn’t really set a timeline.”

Haugen said he visits “Keith and the boys” at the jobsite often, and he is kept informed of the progress.

“The kids will find me at the school and say, ‘Hey, have you seen what we did today?'” Haugen said.

Once the five-bedroom three-level home is complete, Haugen said his family want to do something special for the class.

“We’ve tossed around ideas,” he said, including having a “closed” open house for the students to show off their work to their families.

Haugen spoke highly of the class and its work, and he wasn’t alone in his praise.

“Some of the other sub-contractors have been very impressed, and a lot of these companies are looking (for employees),” he said.

Anderson also enjoys the off-site construction project and is thankful for the opportunity offered by the Haugens.

“This is great,” he said. “I like to work with the guys, and you can teach a lot more by showing than talking.

“You just can’t lose when you learn how to do something like this.”