Hands-on learning is the foundation of many of the Occupational Trades Programs at the Flathead Valley Community College. Each year a team of students taking the “Building Trades Program” class build a home from the ground up, and then sell it.
This year it’s a 1,400 square foot home with 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and is ready to be moved to the buyer’s property. “Last year we started doing this because of the economy,” said Building Trades Program Instructor Greg Waldrop. “We felt that it would be easier for us to market them in the Valley with a lower price and give people some options in terms of where to put them.”
The home costs $65,000. Waldrop said each year the sale of the home funds the next year’s class. He says this is the 16th year for the Building Trades Program. “We started at the behest of the Flathead Building Association which has been a sponsor of us all the way through,” Waldrop said. “It was basically started to keep the trades alive. As a lot of the people that are the craftsman in the building industry – all different types – are aging.” Waldrop said not enough young people were going into the trades to keep the quality, interest, and confidence high in the industry.
The electrical technology class from FVCC did the electrical wiring for the last two homes, “other than that my class does everything except the plumbing. I usually hire a plumber, and the students work with that plumber and the same with HVAC when we have an on-site type of operation,” Waldrop said. He said the home is constructed in two halves so it can be easily transported to the buyers land and put together.
20-year-old Austin Stevens is finishing up his first year of a 2 year Associates Degree in Applied Science.
“Main thing I took this class was to get a general education of everything in order to be able to know the steps that happen before and after what I do,” Stevens said his preference for his career post-college is in finish carpentry.
“Right now, with the economy the way it is, I figured get the education and when the economy picks back up,” Stevens said he is also watching the industry to see what sections of the industry need workers “if it’s the finish industry they need more people in; roofing, sheet-rocking, all the different aspects.”
Stevens said when the local construction scene was booming students were being hired right out of the class. He says despite the slowdown locally it’s still worth his time to get the experience for work elsewhere, and to put him in line for advancement with construction firms after graduation. “With this I’ll still be able to get the education more than the ones who don’t have a clue besides to swing a hammer; you’ve got a little bit more experience, they can get you into, hopefully a little bit better paying job,” Stevens said.
Waldrop said the first 14 homes students built have been shown in the annual Parade of Homes the Flathead Building Association sponsors to showcase home-building across the area. “ The quality that we put into the homes, the contractors in the area were impressed with,” Waldrop said. He said he’s already shown the home several times to potential buyers, and construction is expected to wrap up this week, weather dependent.