CDC students build on their education

Students learn their trades while constructing a home for Habitat for Humanity

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BENNINGTON — It's a perfect partnership.

That's how Brian Coon, building trades instructor at the Southwest Vermont Career Development Center, described his students' projects building homes for Bennington County Habitat for Humanity.

They're continuing that partnership this academic year, after finishing work on their first house for Habitat for Humanity in the organization's North Branch Street Development last June.

Just before Thanksgiving, they began work on another house in the development — a three-bedroom, 1,300-square-foot ranch.

"Hopefully, we can just continue to work together," Coon said. "Obviously, they're always looking for volunteers, and educationally, this is perfect for the kids. You don't get more real-world than what they're doing."

The goal is to have the students build as many houses as they can in the development, said Susan Sommer, executive director of Bennington County Habitat for Humanity. "It's a really important partnership with the building and trades division," she said.

Habitat for Humanity, a global nonprofit housing organization with local chapters nationwide, provides safe housing with affordable mortgages for people who wouldn't otherwise get that opportunity.

Average mortgages in the North Branch Street Development are about $115,000, but grant aid often reduces that amount, Sommer said.

As with their previous build, the students will complete all required work on the house, except for those elements that require licensed contractors, like plumbing, electrical work and excavation.

They resumed working the day they came back to school after winter break earlier this week.

"We're getting ready to start putting the trusses on the main roof," Coon said. Most days, students spend two hours a day, five days a week working on the house.

Students learn skills on a broader scale in building a home than they do when they build smaller items like sheds. For one, Coon said, putting up walls is a more exacting process in a home.

"It's a little bit more detailed," he said. "Keeping your walls straight, you're putting up bigger trusses. When you do a shed, you don't have to worry about caulking all your joints."

Students will do as much work as possible this school year. Come April, representatives from the school and Habitat for Humanity will determine how much more work students can complete during the school year, Sommer said. Volunteers will finish what they are unable to complete.

Habitat's self-imposed deadline to finish the home is by mid-June.

Sommer said the hope is that students will build another home next school year. The school and Habitat have not signed a contract for the project yet, but Sommer expects they will.

Coon said he "couldn't be happier" with his students' work. "It's a great group," he said. "They take pride in what they do, which is big in this trade. You're not always going to have somebody watching what you do."

The school district has also supported the project, helping to get all the logistics lined up so the partnership could work, Coon said.

Habitat for Humanity's work can only continue with volunteers, whether they're students or adults, Sommer said.

"I would say that we're saving at least a third of the cost of any new home, when we're not paying for labor," she said.

The CDC's partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Bennington County began about three years ago, when students finished a modular home they had built at school on-site for a family in Pownal.

Habitat does not have a set buyer for the home being built, Sommer said. But the requirements of a new grant program for fiscal 2019, 2020 and 2021 require Habitat to build three new houses a year, among other commitments.

It's a constant challenge to find families who qualify for a Habitat home, Sommer said.

"This is something we are constantly struggling with," she said. "Probably for the last three and a half years, finding families who qualify has been a real struggle."

The application process for a Habitat home is very strict, because "we don't want to set people up for failure" in the significant responsibility of owning a home, Sommer said.

Prospective buyers must meet requirements on credit ratings and debt-to-income ratio, among other qualifications.

"It's very hard for people to fit within those requirements," Sommer said.

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@benningtonbanner.com, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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