HJ Housing Resources Guide
Published 2007

Building a stake in the future

By Liz Hellmann, Staff Writer

Shop class has long been a staple of the high school curriculum, but forget birdhouses and benches, this group of area students are about to complete their year-long project, building a house.

“It’s a great project to learn the entire construction process,” teacher John Stifter said.

The house is being built by juniors and seniors in the construction class at Watertown-Mayer High School.

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,” Stifter said.

More than just a project

But this house is more than just a homework assignment.

When it 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, 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 on 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.

How can teenagers build a house?

Work begins on the house bright and early every day. The class hammers, saws, paints, and spackles during their first period, from 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.

The project started in October, and thanks to the generosity of a Golden Valley business, the students didn’t have to shiver through winter.

Scott’s Plumbing in Watertown was able to work with Ferguson Enterprises out of Golden Valley who donated a high-efficiency furnace that was used during the sheetrocking phase.

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.

The drywall will be taped and painted, interior doors installed, trimmed, the kitchen and bathroom cabinets and bath bays will all be installed.

The class did all of the work, including the plumbing and electric, with the help of professionals.

Licensed electrician Darwin Roy from Watertown’s Roy Electric and plumber Tim Purcell from Winsted’s Purcell Plumbing and Heating were on hand to make sure all the inner workings of the house, well, work.

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.

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.

Class stands by their work

People who might be wary of living in a house built by teenagers needn’t worry.

“This house is being inspected just like any other house would be inspected,” Stifter said.

And 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.

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