Construction class celebrates duplex completion

Students gain valuable hands-on experience

Times Herald Photo by Joan Koehne

Oconto Falls High School students prepare to cut the ribbon at a duplex they built on King Street in Oconto Falls. It’s the third duplex in three years built by the construction class taught by David Heisel, left. Students participating in the ribbon cutting are, from left, Colton Herr, Tristen Brown, Lucas Stueber, Jared Kennedy, Travis Dequaine, Chase Jones and Matt Radke.

Students in the Oconto Falls High School construction class built more than just a duplex during the 2015-16 school year, speakers at an open house said Thursday. They also built valuable connections with industry professionals, useful skills for a career, long-lasting relationships with one another and affordable housing for a vulnerable population.

For a third year in a row, students helped build a duplex on King Street for NEWCAP, a private, nonprofit agency that assists low-income residents. The duplexes are designed for a single person or couple and offer quality handicap-accessible, low-income housing.

Students, working with local contractors, were involved in every aspect of construction.

“I love these programs,” said Cheryl Detrick, CEO of NEWCAP. “They offer real world workforce experience for the students.”

Students enrolled in the class were Bryce Ash, Tristen Brown, Travis Dequaine, Colton Herr, Chase Jones, Jared Kennedy, Matthew Radke, Jameson Strojny, Lucas Stueber and Kaleb Westcott. Their instructor was David Heisel.

Bob and Nancy Mommaerts donated the land for the duplexes, and grants from the Wisconsin Division of Housing and corporate funds from NEWCAP were used for the project. Students started work on the duplex at 550-552 King St. in August and completed it in May.

The school plans to partner with NEWCAP to build one more duplex, but funding is questionable. Detrick said NEWCAP can no longer provide the funding needed for a fourth duplex, estimated at $50,000, and continues to search for an alternate funding source. If NEWCAP receives the financial backing it needs, framing would start in August, followed by the indoor work during the school year.

NEWCAP initiated its Community Housing Project in 2002 when a donated lot on Fifth Street in Oconto was developed into a handicapped accessible duplex.

Jared Kennedy, a 2016 OFHS graduate and foreman for the project, cut the ribbon to mark the completion of the job. He has been a member of the construction crew for three summers and two school years and plans to attend Fox Valley Technical College for residential building construction with the hope of someday owning his own siding company.

“I imagine I’ll see his job trailer rolling around Oconto Falls in the future,” Heisel said.

The other students in the class also spoke about their career plans at the open house.

“Wherever you go next, know that you’ve made a difference in these people’s lives,” Detrick said, noting that the renters will be happy to move in this summer. She said the Community Housing Development Project provides a way to improve the community while moving low income or disabled individuals toward self-sufficiency.

“We give them safe, quality, affordable housing … and keep people in our communities,” she said.

Detrick, who has 30 years of experience in the construction field, said more skilled laborers are needed today.

“These types of programs are critical in getting that done,” she said.

Patrick Trepanier, owner of Claire’s Insulation Service, worked with the students at the duplex and said the project provides them with valuable experience. He said he has a difficult time finding skilled employees.

“You need manpower. Computers only do designs,” he said.

Heisel also sees a shortage in the field. He took six calls in one week from employers looking for students to work construction jobs for the summer. He said the partnerships the students form with industry professions while building the duplex prove valuable in their careers.

“We’re the crew that builds bridges between school and community,” he said.