HJ/EDMay 1, 2006

Student-built house ready to be auctioned

By Liz Hellmann
Staff Writer

Tim Purcell of Winsted went from plumber to teacher this year. His first lesson: show high school students how to plumb a house.

Purcell, owner of Tim Purcell Plumbing and Heating in Winsted, was asked by shop teacher John Stifter at Watertown-Mayer High School to help his class with their biggest project yet.

Juniors and seniors in the construction class have been working on building a house all year, which will be auctioned off as a fundraising project Saturday, May 20.

Purcell decided to donate his time and skill to teach and oversee the plumbing of the house.

“I was just happy to see an area school doing this project for the students,” Purcell said. “At some point, almost all of them are going to want to finish a basement or build a home, and maybe they’ll think back to what they learned way back when.”

Stifter, who is a licensed contractor and instructor, initiated the project and is supervising it.

“We didn’t really have a good project for the class building construction until this,” Stifter said.

Although Purcell had never taught in a classroom setting, he had instructed high school-aged summer help how to plumb at his business.

“That was more one-on-one,” Purcell said.

Despite having little teaching experience, Purcell thought the project went very well.

He spent two hours each morning for four days helping the class install vent lines, drain waste, and rough-in water lines for the fixtures in the house.

“It works well for the kids, because not everyone is going to college. It shows them the different kinds of trades,” Purcell said.

More than just a project

When the house is finished in May, it will be auctioned off to the highest bidder, who will then move it from the school’s parking lot to the site of their choosing.

The money raised will go toward improving other industrial tech programs at the school, including basic welding, metal fabrication, woods, architectural drafting, graphic communications, and basic electricity.

The house is 1,400 square feet with three bedrooms and two baths, including a master bedroom with its own bathroom.

“It’s a little bigger than my house,” Stifter laughed.

The living room and kitchen is an open floor plan with a vault ceiling in the main room. A 30-degree bay window is the focal point of the living room, and the house is wired for phone, Internet, and cable in every room.

There is space to install a stairway off the living room, and a wall shared by the living room and kitchen side is designed for a garage with a service door.

Bidding for the house will start at the cost of materials, $35,000.

“I’ve already had one gentlemen call me the other day who was interested in it,” Stifter said.

Of course, there will be additional costs for moving the house out of its birthplace, the school parking lot, which will cost about $5,000 to $7,000, and would be the buyer’s responsibility.

Anyone who buys the house should have no hassle moving it and setting it up.

All of the wire will be hanging below the rim joints, with enough wire to switch it into the basement, and the plumbing will be roughed in through the floor.

“Everything will be dropped down ready to hook up,” Stifter said.

How can teenagers build a house?

Whether the lesson for the day is plumbing, electrical work, painting, or spackling, it begins bright and early during the first period, from 8 to 9:30 a.m.

With the major components, like plumbing, finished, the class is working hard to get the house finished by auction time.

“It’s gone pretty well. The kids will make mistakes here and there, but we always fix the mistakes,” Stifter said.

For those who might be wary about a house built by teenagers, Purcell is confident the project is up to professional standards.

“Rest assured the shop instructor is knowledgeable,” Purcell said. “Everything was laid out for the students.”

The house has met all the required inspections as it is being built, including plumbing, wiring, framing, and installation.

Licensed electrician Darwin Roy from Watertown’s Roy Electric also helped the students with the inner workings of the house.

First time for class, not teacher

While this is probably the students’ first crack at a project of this magnitude, it is just like old times for Stifter.

Stifter was in charge of another house-building class when he taught at McGregor High School for 13 years in McGregor, which is close to Duluth.

He brought the idea before the school board at Watertown-Mayer this fall.

If all goes well with the auction, Stifter is hoping the class can build a house every year, which Purcell supports.

“If we get asked again, and if we can free up the time to do it, I would definitely do it again,” Purcell said.

Judging by the fact that there is already a waiting list for the class next year, which can only let 44 students in, Stifter should have no problem drumming up enthusiasm.

His vision also includes getting the students even more involved in the process – which might seem like a hard thing, since they are already doing all of the work.

Stifter, who designed this house himself, is looking to pass on that responsibility.

“In the future, we would like the kids in the architectural drafting class to draw up the plans,” Stifter said.


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