ROCK RAPIDS – Grant Engel has been building up to this moment since he started teaching industrial technology at Lycée Central Lyon six years ago.
Her high school students last week put the finishing touches on a 16,000 square foot home they’ve been building in her construction trades class for the past two years.
“Pretty much everything in there, the students did on their own,” Engel said. “From the framing, siding and shingles last year to completing the interior this year with the plumbing, floors, painting everything, making the cabinets and everything in between.
The completed home is a three bedroom, two bathroom structure ready to be installed on a pre-built foundation. A garage could be attached.
The project is a step up from the three tiny houses that Engel’s students have built before and he is proud of the level of ownership and responsibility his students have taken in the project.
“When they reach their goal of installing a ceiling fan or installing a cabinet or counter or hooking up a faucet that actually works, the satisfaction and pride they have is incredible,” said Engel.
Sophomore Korryn Christensen said she was delighted to see the different rooms of the interior come together over the past year.
“With that you can see it,” she said. “It’s something where in the future you go through it and you think, ‘I helped do this; I put this together. It makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something.
This is the first time that Christensen has taken Engel’s construction course, but she intends to return for her junior and senior years to work on the next house project. The same goes for sophomore Jac Van Wyhe.
“I’m going to finish high school doing this,” he said.
Van Wyhe said he enjoys working with his hands on the house, especially laying flooring and drywall. He looks forward to gaining experience with the framing and roofing of the house next door and integrating it into Rock Rapids.
“Next year we’re going to build another one,” he said. “We’re going to kind of build a whole neighborhood on our own.”
Engel said the coronavirus pandemic “definitely hampered” the project, but it was still being completed on time.
“We squeaked it through. The timing was not the most optimal, but it ended up working in our favor because it didn’t affect us too much, ”he said.
The structure was purchased by former Central Lyon School District superintendent Dave Ackerman, who has since sold it to a development company in Primghar where the house will be relocated later this summer. The proceeds of the project will support the construction of another house from the next school year.
“We would like the house to be maintained in Rock Rapids, but once the house is sold, we have no control over its destination,” Engel said.
Two months of distance learning was the biggest hurdle, as students weren’t working from home at all during that time. Engel and some of the staff finished the siding and shingles over the summer to get the house ready in the fall.
Rising construction material costs also impacted the project, but luckily some lumber had been purchased before the pandemic. The plumbing and wiring materials, doors, and plywood to build the cabinets were more expensive, but Engel said they were able to avoid the worst.
The proceeds from the sale of the house will support the construction of the next house, which has already been discussed. Engel hopes to continue building houses in this way, reinvesting the money from each project into the next.
This time, the students will be building on site on an empty lot to the west of the football field. Another contractor will install a concrete foundation, but the class will grow from there.
This time, Engel is planning a three-year project. After watching the project unfold for the past two years, he said he wanted to leave more time to focus on each step of the construction.
“When you go from start to finish, there is so much detail. Like plumbing, I like children to hook up faucets. Now they are wiring the ceiling fans. I want them to experience all of these little things, but it takes time, ”said Engel.
“That’s why this next will be three years so that we can really take our time and that each child can be exposed to all trades.”
With the three-year construction timeline, every student should be able to experience all parts of building a house before graduation, even if not all are in order.
Getting to this point was a joint effort of Engel, the school administration who supported the first mini-house, and the students in their program who worked on each of the houses.
“When I took the job in central Lyon, my five-year plan was to build a house. Last year was the fifth year, ”he said. “Now it’s the sixth year and we’re finishing the first house in the sixth year, which is just amazing.”
“It’s not just my victory, it’s a community victory, it’s a student victory, it’s a victory for the center of Lyon,” said Engel.