The Ottumwa Courier

Southeast Iowa

May 18, 2012

Ottumwa, Oskaloosa students close in on construction success

OSKALOOSA — Some day, students in Ottumwa and Oskaloosa will be able to return to their hometowns and point out their classwork to their children.

It's not a matter of saving tests and report cards. They'll literally be able to show off the homes they built in their construction trades classes.

This year, Oskaloosa students are building at 307 S. M Street. Their Ottumwa counterparts are at 88 Traxler Drive. The builds haven't always been easy. In Ottumwa, this year's build turned into finishing work because houses built in the two prior years had yet to sell.

Ron Downing, the Ottumwa students' instructor, said finishing a house that was already standing still provided the students with valuable experience.

“This year we did duct work, plumbing and electrical,” said Downing. The students also finished a 1,800 square-foot basement.

David Bower, the instructor in Oskaloosa, said a lack of familiarity with the building process was an issue at times.

“Once we got started, the kids set the forms for the foundation wall and that’s always an interesting challenge because they’re big, they’re bulky and the kids aren’t familiar with working with them,” said Bower. “But, we got them all set and we got the foundation poured.”

Bower said the skills his student obtained while working on the 1,600-square-foot home will serve them well and earned them college credits. That's only part of the real-world applications for the classes. While construction has slowed considerably in recent years, the industry itself isn't going away.

The students also learn the value of working together. Building a house alone just isn't possible.

“This class is different than a lot of classes. This class takes — and I’m just guessing at numbers here, but this class requires 80 percent team [effort] and 20 percent individual effort. There are [high school] classes where those numbers are reversed,” Downing said.

And the students' work is solid. Getting it wrong isn't an option, not when the houses must pass the same inspections as any other new residence.

“I feel good saying that the buyers are getting top-quality construction,” said Ottumwa Superintendent Davis Eidahl, “a great home in a great neighborhood that will soon have a brand new elementary school.”

Both Ottumwa and Oskaloosa students have had a chance to show off their work this week with open houses. In Ottumwa's case it's no longer about getting a buyer; both houses students constructed in past years have finally sold.

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