SEE RELATED STORY: Community raises money for student building scholarships
By Casey Hans
There’s a beehive of building activity on Ann Arbor’s east side.
A team of Huron High School students is busy framing roof trusses on a new, two-story house. This afternoon, another team from Pioneer High School will be on site working just as hard, all aiming to complete the next student-built house as part of The Ann Arbor Student Building Industry Program.
It’s the newest project for the AASBIP, now in its 40th year. The students are building the 2,200-square-foot house on a site on Earl Shaffer Court – named after the program’s founder and former director of technical education for the district who made the program his career mission.
The turnkey house will feature granite countertops, an alarm system and a maintenance-free exterior as well as a finished basement, 3½ baths and landscaping when the house is completed and put on the market next summer.
Huron High School senior Travis Adkins said he does not intend to pursue a career in the trades, but that the program gives him skills and knowledge as a future homeowner. Plus, he said, he enjoys the work and he loves being outside.
“If you build your own house, or you move into a house, you’ll be able to fix it,” said Adkins, who has done roofing work with his uncles in Ohio. “This is one of the most amazing classes ever. You come here and just get to work.”
The class has four team leaders; they shift every two months so that each student gets a chance at managing a group at the site.
John Birko, program instructor for the past four years, said his goal is to help his students gain skills and become confident in their abilities. He said after several years overseeing the program: “I can see now the wisdom of what Earl (Shaffer) was trying to do.”
“The house isn’t the product,” explained Birko, who his students call “coach.” “They (the students) are the product. The house is the tool.”
Most days, he said, he has to prod students to wrap up and catch the bus back to school. Most are so committed, they have a hard time putting down the hammer, he said.
“They all have each others’ backs,” Birko said of the camaraderie that is built into the program. “That’s one of the lessons they learn – to appreciate each other.”
He said new state high school curriculum requirements might change the program – perhaps allowing students to use class credits for required advanced math credits. But the basis for the program will remain the same: to create an independence and self-sufficiency and make students life-long learners.
A 25-member board comprised of professionals from the community including builders, real estate professionals, bankers, educators and other community leaders oversees the student building program.
Local builder Bob Chizek chairs the nonprofit AASBIP board this year. Himself a product of The Ann Arbor Public Schools, Chizek said the program is a model for how partnerships can work. He said the support of the school administration and dedication of the community has helped to carry it forward.
“It’s a marriage between public and private interests,” he said. “It has worked so well. We need to do more of that, partnering in this time of challenged budgets.”
Chizek said board members enjoy their service. “The board is deep – some (members) have served for 30-plus years,” he added. “Part of the payback is that they enjoy helping the next generation.”
Birko said the program has been a godsend for many students who don’t learn well in a traditional classroom or for those who enjoy working with their hands. “I tell them if you sit there quietly with your hands folded, you’ll fail this class,” he said. “You must assert yourself. You must participate. You must learn to lead.”
He said each time a student-built house is completed it proves to be another amazing year. “It touches me every time,” he added.
More information about the Ann Arbor Student Building Industry Program can be found online at www.aastudentbuilding.com/
Casey Hans edits this newsletter for The Ann Arbor Public Schools. E-mail her or call 734-994-2090 ext. 51228.
Student alumni sought
Diane Calmeyn, an AASBIP board member who works with The Greater Michigan Plumbing and Mechanical Contractor’s Association in Ann Arbor, is organizing a spring alumni reunion for former students of the Ann Arbor building program. She notes that many of the program’s graduates have gone on to work in the industry or form their own companies. “We encourage all former students to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to update their contact information so we can send out invitations to these upcoming events,” she said. Contact her at 734-665-4681.