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Student-built houses a hard sell for Washington County Career Center

Instructor Ken Gebhart, left, teaches junior Cail McKitrick how to use a table saw during the construction of the house project at the Washington County Career Center this winter. (Photo courtesy of the Washington County Career Center)

MARIETTA — Interest has continued to dip in a long-standing tradition at the Washington County Career Center, in which students build a home and sell it to someone in the public.

For many years, there was an auction for the finished home, but when interest waned, pre-sales became the trend. Now, even buyers for that are scarce, said school officials.

“Every year, our carpentry students in the high school build a house,” said Treasurer Joe Crone. “For many years that was then auctioned off at the end of the year, but the last five years we did a pre-sale so that the buyer could work with the program to customize more of the pre-fabrication.”

But when it came time to solicit an interested pre-sale this past summer, there were no takers.

“We solicited buyers in June, then July — both got a couple of calls, but nothing. Then August no calls,” said Crone. “But we still have great interest from students, these classes run 18-22 students every year.”

Electrician students work to complete wiring inside the framework of a home currently under construction at the Washington County Career Center. (Photo courtesy of the Washington County Career Center)

So fronting the cost of materials, the school continued the program.

“What’s harder each year (for potential buyers) is finding the land or financing the rest of the site preparation,” said Crone. “This house is perfect if you already have the land or access to the utilities. But that’s harder to find.”

Crone said the school adapted this year, still offering the project but with an eye to potentially attract an offer by enlisting the digital marketing students to promote the work of their peers.

“So we’ve tried to advertise throughout the school year that this is a project our students are working on, not only led by carpentry but also our students learning electrical work but so far we haven’t seen an interest to purchase,” he explained.

There is no profit for the school, which uses the money for the sale to pay for project supplies for the next year.

A modular home currently under construction at the Washington County Career Center is up for pre-sale. (Photo courtesy of the Washington County Career Center)

Despite being more difficult to sell than in years past, the construction is still an extremely valuable slice of real-world education, said instructors.

The project is currently framed in a metal hanger on campus, where students spend their mornings on the various permitted tasks that go into building a house.

“Everything from beginning with reading plans to then framing the house, roofing, wiring and cabinetry, having a hand in all of that feels awesome when it’s done,” said senior Dain Chesser, 17, of Bartlett.

Chesser as a junior was more hands-on with the framing of the house and the cabinetry, this year he’s worked on the roof and again will have a hand in cabinets this spring.

“The class starts the year with safety, and you do really supervise the basics there — driving the nail straight — but by now, they can see their gains and have some idea what parts they like to do and have pride in those skills,” said instructor Ken Gebhart. “Our house has to be suitable to live in at the end, so they learn by doing the whole permitting process and fixing things if they don’t meet initial inspections. Then at the end of the year, they get to invite their families to come to see the work they’ve done.”

Kesser said the program has even allowed his early placement in a local construction business.

“To hopefully be working and making money before I even graduate this year — that’s cool,” he said. “You learn here pretty quickly what you’re good at and what you like… I love roofing, but concrete not so much.”

While the project is still in progress, there’s still time for an interested buyer to customize some of the finishes like paint color, cabinetry and fixture choices.

“And we just yesterday met with a realtor to look at listing this if we don’t get a buyer soon,” said Crone. “But one benefit here besides supporting the future workforce of our local kids is you’re getting this house at-cost. We as a school get all of our materials tax-free and so I run a bill at the end and you just pay what we’ve put into it.”

In all, the anticipated price of the building is expected to be in the $54,000-$58,000 range, for three bedrooms, two full baths, a living room, dining room and kitchen all within 1,508 square feet.

“Now that home isn’t fully finished, and you’d have to arrange transportation, site preparation, and hooking up your utilities,” Crone explained. “But it’s fully capable of slab or basement placement, and what’s neat is it’s been constructed with the joists specifically for height not to be an issue in transport.”

In all, a buyer could anticipate a $100,000 price tag to finish the project, including flooring, he noted.

Superintendent Dennis Blatt added though that the plan for the 2020-21 school year is to shift the project to a newly donated site on Ohio 676 near the school’s campus.

“The last time we worked on-site was probably 25 years ago, but transportation to and from sites became hard to manage,” he explained. “But with this site being so close, we’ll be able to involve even more programs like our masonry and heavy machinery groups, too.”

Stacey Hall, Marietta City Schools board of education member and the city schools’ representative on the career center’s board, also expressed excitement for the adaptation of the programs and the direct application the center teaches students.

“It’s incredibly beneficial to our area not only for students to have that option but also for retention,” she said. “I am constantly impressed by the quality of instructors there and the projects they’re allowing our young people to accomplish and leave school with a workforce skill they can use here. My son can’t wait to go there.”

For more information on the current building project, contact Crone at 740-885-5986.

Janelle Patterson can be reached at jpatterson@mariettatimes.com.

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