St. Helens High School students work on a new tiny house project after completing two others before

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL - Joe Mauck, the building and construction teacher, works with students Richard Shadley, Austin Dragoo, and Kayla Jerome, to mark the center beams of the the roof where the students plan to put in a skylight. Building the house is expected to be a two-year project for students at the high school.For the second time in five years, students at St. Helens High School are learning construction skills while building a 160 square-foot “tiny home,” which they hope to sell when it’s completed next year.

Students in Joe Mauck’s building and construction class at the high school have taken on the two-year task of building a tiny home with the help of donors and grants for needed supplies. In 2011, Mauck had students work on the first tiny house project, which took three years to complete.

Tiny homes are defined by bloggers, builders and owners as dwellings generally smaller than 400 square feet. The homes have become increasingly popular for people wanting to downsize or lessen their impact on the environment.

Mauck came up with the idea five years ago to have students get involved in the tiny house building business as well. With the help of a $4,000 grant from Lowes Home Improvement and an assortment of donated supplies, Mauck had the school’s building and construction classes begin work on the two projects, which had the floor plans and interiors designed by the students.

Three years later, in 2014, the two homes were completed and sold. Mauck said the homes netted a profit of $6,000, which he poured right into the next tiny home project — a larger 20-by-8.5 feet wide home on a portable trailer. The cost of the trailer alone cost close to $3,000, Mauck said, but the project will continue to move forward with the donation of supplies. Mauck added that he also hopes to apply for another grant from Lowes in the fall.

While the goal of the project is the same as the first tiny house build — to teach basic home building skills and introduce students to construction techniques — the newest project offers a bigger challenge, literally. The new home’s floorplan is almost triple the square footage of the first two houses the students built, which were only 48 square feet each.

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL - Austin Dragoo and Richard Shadley, both juniors, measure an area near the roof of the house where a window will be installed. Mauck said he often instructs and guides the students, but lets them use their own problem-solving skills when it comes to things like measuring boards to fit tight spaces or how to cuts planks with bulky tools.This time, the students are also getting help from others who have some expericence in tiny home building. Shelterwise, a Portland-based design and building firm specializing in small home designs, donated the floor plan layouts, which usually retail for $100 to $300. Students in the advanced cabinetry class at Gaston High School are also helping build a custom set of cabinets for the house.

The purpose of the class is to give students experience in a variety of areas that will teach them basic skills that can be further developed after high school, Mauck explained. Making mistakes now, in a school environment, can also be beneficial because it presents an opportunity to learn.

“The more they mess up, the better off they are going into a job later,” Mauck said.

Students in the class range in their own skill sets and interests. Several students said they want to work as electricians after high school and hope to learn more about basic electrical work as the tiny house project progresses. One of those students, Austin Dragoo, a junior, had a small amount of home construction experience from working with his grandpa, and said the class has taught him many more skills.

Others simply enjoy working on a project that gets them out of a traditional classroom setting. Kayla Jerome, a sophomore who is heavily involved in the school’s drama program, said she wants to pursue a career in set design. Working on construction projects has taught her applicable skills when it comes to helping create stage props.

“I’ve learned how to work with my hands rather than just sketching it and hoping it works out,” Jerome said.

Last week, students took a major step forward in the project when they framed the roof. On a cloudy Friday afternoon, a handful of students measured, marked, nailed and sawed from the start of class right up until the dismissal bell rang.

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