Build-A-House program gives students tools for success

Students wearing their trade shirts from the Chesterfield Technical Center (CTC) stood proudly while community leaders and their teachers dedicated a house last Friday built by the Tech Center students in the Build-a-House program. The 2,700 square-foot rancher located on 1.2 acres at 5117 Cogbill Rd. is a five-bedroom, three-bath house that will be transferred by the end of June to Chesterfield Alternatives to become a home for four women who have intellectual disabilities.

The Build-a-House program connects the students eager to learn a trade with adults who need a home. This is the second house built by students enrolled in carpentry, electrical, plumbing, HVAC, advanced CAD, Cisco networking and landscaping programs at the Chesterfield Technical Center. More than 300 students received hands-on experience over the year and a half it took to complete the home, named The Cogbill Road house.  

The Build-a-House program began in 2008 on vacant land owned by Chesterfield County at 19300 Church Rd.  The students build a 2,200 square-foot home on that site, which was dedicated in 2010 and is now home to three people with intellectual disabilities.  

The program is designed to create an authentic residential construction work experience and learning environment for students at CTC.  “This is a real working job site,” said Robert F. Kent, residential construction coordinator for the program. “This is the classroom, the largest classroom in Chesterfield County.” Kent was at the site on Thursday making sure everything was being completed before the dedication on Friday. Construction on the project began in January 2011.  Students participating in the program come from all 10 high schools in the county.  Real work time on the house involved only 1.5 to 1.45 hours each day.  “That’s okay,” said Kent of the time it took to build the house. “It is not a race.  We are here to teach kids how to do it correctly.”

The Build-a-House program is so unique in the country, where a partnership is formed between the county and a private organization.  “It’s the only project like it in the country. There are other places where they [tech centers]build houses,” he said.   In 2011 the program was recognized and received an achievement award from National Association of Counties (NaCo) for its innovation.  “It’s [the program] amazing,” Kent said. “The high school kids are very interested in what is going on.”

Graduating in June, Deaaron Jackson, was in the plumbing program this year; he took electricity last year.  “It feels good,” he said to see the work in complete form.   “We use our skills and learn more skills, as well as team work.”  

Jesus Morales is also a senior who helped with the electrical work in the house. “It helps us to get ready to go out into the work force,” he said.  Morales has been hired by an electrical company and will begin work after graduation.

Board of Supervisor for Dale District, Jim Holland, was a platform speaker and part of the ribbon cutting ceremony.  He said.  “As stated early, this is truly a win-win.” The Build-a-House model of taking unused, county-owned land to provide students with real-world construction experience and create a comfortable home for people with disabilities is a winning experience for everyone.

Plans are under way for a third Build-a-House project.

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