NORFOLK, Neb. – Northeast Community College faculty members Roger Walker, Ryan Hobza and Curtis Brandt were able to continue to meet with their students through Zoom and other online platforms when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March. However, there was the other more visible part of their program that they had to finish themselves.
The three building construction instructors were among faculty members and others on campus to strap on their tool belts to finish the work this spring on two, 1,620 sq. foot student-built homes that will be auctioned in late June.
“They’ll be in good shape for the auction,” Hobza said. “We began by spending some time outside working on the freshmen houses to get the roofs covered and sealed up so they’re dry for a period of time. We then moved over to the sophomore houses so they can sell this summer.”
The homes are completely constructed by first- and second-year program students in the Applied Technology Division as a living and learning project under the supervision of the various applied technology faculty. Students begin working on the homes on the College’s Norfolk campus as freshmen and finish the work as sophomores. Both feature two bedrooms. One has two baths while the other has two-and-three-quarter baths.
Walker said during the remainder of the spring semester, the instructors structured their days by meeting online with their students in the morning to conduct the theory portion of classes, while every afternoon or any spare time they had was spent in the homes.
“Actually, doing the work itself doesn’t bother me, it’s just the time limit that’s been stressful, “Walker said. “We started two-weeks behind after the college closed after the initial onset of the pandemic in March. Fortunately, they moved back the sell date to the end of June. That helps a little bit and we’ll get as close to finishing as we possibly can.”
“It’s been different, that’s for sure,” Brandt said. “It’s been typically going from teaching classes to having the students do more of the work to teaching classes and we’re doing all of the work now,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s been a big role reversal.”
Brandt said they were working hard to get the homes buttoned up in time for two upcoming open houses and the auction.
Both homes have been designed to be moved off college property at the buyer’s expense to their own lot. The houses include all water, vent and waste lines extended to floor joist level for ease of hook-up and 2x6-inch exterior stud walls with cellulose insulation throughout. They meet or exceed local and state building codes. All electrical conveniences were installed in accordance with the national electric and Federal Housing Administration code. Circuits are tested and connected to a 200-amp breaker panel.
The instructors did have to eliminate a few things that are normally installed in the houses, one being flooring. Students typically only install flooring in the kitchen, dining areas and entrances, but always leave any carpeting and flooring for restrooms, living rooms, and utility rooms up to the new homeowner after it is moved to its new location.
“The houses being constructed are similar to what our students have constructed in recent years, Walker said. “The only thing is that I did bite the bullet this year and put a painted kitchen island in one of the houses. As a carpenter, that’s a sin to me – painting wood. But that’s the style now these days with a lot of painted items. The island is the only kitchen item that is painted. We did accent some of the other wood features such as the crown matching the color of the island.”
Others around the Northeast community who have experience in construction have also lent a hand over the past three months, such as other instructors in the college’s Applied Technology division who normally don’t work on the homes.
Walker said, “We’ve had some come up all day to do some of the staining and varnishing. That really has helped. This includes full and part-time instructors in automotive, plumbing, and wind energy technology as well as other employees.”
The work of the instructors is not finished. Once they complete the sophomore houses, they go back to the homes begun by freshmen students to enclose them a little bit more. They will determine if they are able to complete this year’s work by installing shingles and windows and exterior doors later this summer.
Brandt said the students that he has been keeping in contact with did fairly well during the academic year as the pandemic neared its ugly head. He said they kept busy outside of classes.
“The sophomores I had spoken with were doing construction work while some of the freshmen were either working with a contractor or they were doing some type of construction work around their own homes or something like that. That’s good to see because it allows them to keep up on their skills.”
The instructors said the semester has been like no other they have ever experienced. Walker said he apologized to his students because it’s not exactly how one teaches a program such as building construction.
“I can show them videos and how to do things, but they actually need to do this to really retain it. I know how to do these things, that’s no big deal, but the students need that,” Walker said. “You do the best you can under the circumstances, but it’s still not the way it should be.”
Brandt said he feels bad for the students as they are missing out on the hands-on aspect of the program.
“If they’re doing things at home, they’re not really getting critiqued on how good a job they’re doing, where here, we would critique them more closely on things like trim work or window and shingle installations. We can talk about it all day long from the book or show them videos, but that hands-on experience is what they missed out on this spring.”
“I’ve spent my time working on the framing side of it like the first-year students do and I worked on much of the finish work,” Hobza said. “This isn’t something I’ve done in a while, so it’s good learning opportunity.”
The public may view the homes during open houses on Tuesday, June 16, and Thursday, June 18, from 7-9 p.m. The auction will be held Saturday, June 27, at 10 a.m. For more information or to schedule a tour, call (402) 844-7215 or (800) 348-9033 ext. 7215.
The building construction instructors admit while it has been an unusual semester due to the pandemic, it was good to hone up on their own abilities.
“It does help to do this once in a while to make sure our skills are what they are,” Walker said. “I know one thing for sure, though, my eyesight is not as good as it used to be.”
Northeast Community Construction building construction instructors Ryan Hobza (left), Roger Walker, and Curtis Brandt stand inside one of two student-built homes on the Norfolk campus. When the pandemic hit in March, the three instructors and others on campus with construction experience were called upon to finish the two houses that will be sold at auction in late June.