High school students build all-American house

2013-05-18T00:20:00Z 2013-05-22T12:42:30Z High school students build all-American houseBarbara Christiansen - Daily Herald Daily Herald
May 18, 2013 12:20 am  • 

Fourteen area high school student built a house -- and their own skills and confidence -- and in the process helped out their country.

The students are from Westlake, Lehi, American Fork and Lone Peak high schools and worked together in a building construction class to learn skills that they will probably use the rest of their lives. Alpine School District students construct two homes a year in their class. This year they were in Lehi and Pleasant Grove. The homes are listed for sale -- at fair market value so as to not unfairly compete with private enterprise -- and the funds received go back to the schools' Career and Technical Education departments. The home in Lehi, which has been made with entirely American materials, has been listed for $229,000.

The 14 students who built the home in Lehi started out as 20, but some were not able to complete the class. The rest started at the beginning of the school year and will continue to the end.

"We are not done," teacher Kris Johnson emphasized to the students at an open house Thursday. With two more weeks of school, there are some loose ends to tie up. But what was done was impressive.

Logan Seegmiller, one of the students from American Fork High School, said Johnson wanted the work done to a professional level.

"He told us we should have quality and do the best we can," he said. "He didn't let us take any shortcuts. It wasn't about speed, it was about accuracy and quality."

Seegmiller has personal experience with that need for quality. He'd been working on the closet, and the baseboards didn't meet up precisely in the corner. Johnson asked Seegmiller to use a filler to ensure the proper fit, even though it was not very visible in the back of the closet.

"He wanted it to look good," Seegmiller said. "I filled in the corners and made it as smooth as possible."

He said he was glad he enrolled in the class.

"I am definitely pleased I took this class," he said. "I have already patched walls in my house and I have wired things." Other skills they learned include cement work, laying wood flooring and doing framing and finish work. Some work, like electrical and plumbing, needed to be done by licensed individuals, with some of the finishing work done by the students. Johnson said it was exciting to involve his former students.

"One of my former students was helping us install the furnace and electrical work," he said. "It is cool to have them back."

The Lehi home has about 2,300 square feet of finished area, with four bedrooms, two and a half baths, kitchen, living room, dining room and computer area. It is built with 2-by-6 posts instead of 2-by-4s, providing more room for insulation and making it energy efficient. A drafting class at Pleasant Grove High School created the plans.

When they decided on the goal of having everything in the home made in America, they didn't realize how hard that would be.

"We did our best to make this all American-made," Johnson said. "We almost made it. We struggled hard. All the materials cost only 1 percent more. They were not readily available, however. Our selection was limited."

He suggested retail stores have a section marked "American made" to help buyers purchase locally produced items.

To work toward their goal, they had to go on a virtual scavenger hunt, he said.

"We did lots of research on the web and made phone calls," Michelle Scott, the interior design instructor at Lehi High School, said. That group helped choose the colors and materials and plan the exterior of the home.

One item popular with buyers is granite countertops. However, the class members found none of those are made in America, so they chose quartz instead. That was just one of the substitutions made to reach toward their goal of American-made. In more than 99 percent of the items they succeeded. However, they found the hinges for the interior doors were actually made in China and some parts of the garage door opener were made outside America.

"But they were assembled here," Johnson quickly added.

Some items were made by class members, including vanities for the bathrooms and kitchen cabinets, which were built by a cabinetry class from Pleasant Grove High School.

"It wasn't a smooth road, but it was a real-life experience," Johnson said. "We held to a budget. In some of our selections we had to choose something else. I am still glad we did it. I would do it again, but don't tell Vicki." He referred to Vicki Fife, the interior design teacher at Lone Peak High School, who is designing next year's house.

The students resoundingly said they were glad for the experience. They learned how to lay tile, how to hire a house and how much work painting is before you ever open up a paint can.

"Doing wood floors on your knees for a long time -- it hurts," another said.

They learned some life lessons and rewards.

"The biggest thing I learned was problem solving," one said. "Everything you do will come back to bite you in the end. If you don't do it right the first time you have to keep fixing it."

"You have to work on quality first to get your speed up," another said.

"It is really time consuming but it pays off," one said.

"It is hard work but you have got to stick with it," one said. "It is the little details that matter the most. You need to pay attention to every little thing."

Stott, the interior design teacher, agreed.

"It is a great learning experience," she said. "There are so many details. I definitely learned a lot about building American. It can be done. You just have to keep searching."

Those who toured the home at the open house did a little of their own searching. Johnson told them there was an 8-inch pipe embedded in a wall and a secret room hidden in the home. The pipe was used to form a rounded corner in the kitchen area, and the hidden room was behind some shelving in an upstairs bathroom. It can be used for additional storage.

Johnson, who has done similar projects for 22 years, said the most challenging part was coordinating everything.

"I think the best thing for this class is the education," he said. "That is my philosophy -- to do this so the kids can have a real-life experience."

"Listening to their comments and how much they have grown, you recognize their own self confidence," he said. "It rises when you complete something like this."

The house has already had an offer on it, from an individual who had previously toured another of the student-built homes and was impressed with the quality.

-- Barbara Christiansen covers news in American Fork ˜ government, schools, residents, business and more.
Read more from Barbara Christiansen here.

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