Home-building equals training opportunity for Ann Arbor high school students
Angela Cesere | AnnArbor.com
In addition to the typical high school curriculum, Paige gets to spend a portion of his weekday mornings at a development site in Ann Arbor building a home from scratch.
As a member of the Ann Arbor Student Building Industry Program, Paige and 28 other students from Ann Arbor high schools are just adding the finishing touches to the program’s 41st home construction project.
The program, which has partnered Ann Arbor high school students with local business professionals since 1970, consists of a group of junior and senior students who build a house from raw land to finished product each year with the supervision of an instructor. The new house, located at 2370 Earl Shaffer Court in the Sumerset subdivision, will be completed in the next few weeks and has already been placed on the housing market, said Christine Hill, the marketing coordinator for the program. There will be an open house for the finished project on June 19.
Angela Cesere | AnnArbor.com
The program is run by a board of directors made up of local business professionals, who provide the land and handle the financing for completion of the house. The board purchased 11 lots in the Sumerset subdivision in 2004, and the house this year marks the sixth student-built home in the development.
“This development is going to represent over 10 years of kids in the school system that can all lay claim to the fact that they built this beautiful house in Ann Arbor,” said Hill.
Students come to the building site during the school year for three-hour time slots and receive three high school credits for participating in the program.
Each year, the home that the students build is sold and the profits fund the program. The four-bedroom home built this year is listed for $305,000.
John Birko, the instructor for the program, said that although there is always interest in the student-built homes, the houses are still selling for less than he expected.
“There has absolutely been a decline in home prices,” Birko said. “We expected these to go in the $320,000 to $330,000 range, but then home prices came down.”
Although he said the program is still well funded, the troubled housing market in recent years has affected the group’s scholarship fund, which gives education money to graduates of the program. In 2009, directors of the program started a fundraising campaign in order to continue giving out the scholarships.
“We are still trying to solicit people who wish to donate to the scholarship fund and will continue that campaign,” Birko said.
Despite the decline in housing market prices, marketing coordinator Hill said the student-built homes continue to attract interested buyers because “everything is done to perfection.”
“By and large our program has been recognized by people as being probably one of the best houses you can get for new construction,” said Hill. “It’s a quality house and people realize that.”
Hill said the program provides students with the opportunity to learn classroom skills in a practical manner, making them more “well-rounded” individuals.
“Talk about a practical way to learn your math or science,” Hill said. “It’s also teaching them important life skills.”
Ashlyn Thompson, Huron High School junior and member of the program, said that building the home this year helped her to narrow her career goals.
“After doing this program, I decided that I want to be a project manager in college,” Thompson said. “This program really helped me. I got to know so many people, the trade and how it works.”
Along with Thompson, Birko said many of the students have proven to be extremely skilled in the building sector. Four of the students in the program even won at a state-level building competition and will be competing at the national level at the end of June.
At the SkillsUSA “TeamWorks” competition, groups of four students present a business plan and then construct a frame structure with functional plumbing, electrical and masonry components.
Huron High School seniors Aaron Wyse, Jose Tavarez, Sergie Aviles and Dillon Davis won at the state level with the second highest score in the history of the competition, Birko said. They will be traveling to Kansas City to compete in a few weeks.
“We’re very proud,” Birko said. “It’s a huge honor that they have been able to make it to this point.”
Birko, who has been a part of the program for five years, said that aside from the practical skills the students develop, the program is about building individuals, not just houses.
“I like seeing many of the students find themselves for the first time,” Birko said. “Some of them finally see there is a place in this world for them where they fit. I enjoy opening their eyes and letting them see what their potential can be.”