Building trades program survives


STANDISH — After a Standish-Sterling Community Schools (S-S) School Board meeting on Monday, Sept. 8, it looked as though Standish-Sterling Building Trades students would be learning the construction trade through books and classroom instruction.

But a meeting in the early hours of Friday, Sept. 12 changed everything.

“They (school board) went from not building a house on Monday to building two houses now,” said S-S Building Trades Instructor Howard Barriger. He says students will be partially building a house on Cedar Street for Arenac County Habitat For Humanity as well as a house that will be for sale on property the district purchased for $6,500 in Standish.

At the meeting on Monday, Sept. 8, the S-S Board of Education voted 4-3 to not allow the building trades students to build a house, since it was not pre-sold, unlike the class’s projects in past years, and the houses often cost $100,000 - $150,000.

Barriger said something had to be done to give the students in the building trades class some hands-on experience.

“I sit in a classroom with kids and they’re all concerned,” he said, adding some students may not intend on enrolling in college after high school and want to learn a trade. “Everyday I’ve been answering to kids.”

So the teacher, who is also a licensed contractor, took action.

“I made three proposals (to the Board of Education),” Barriger said.

He says the first proposal was to have perennial material suppliers for the school’s projects – Sequin’s Lumber, Arquette Concrete and Sullivan Exteriors – withhold billing statements to the school for one year while the district attempts to sell the house. The suppliers agreed, Barriger said, but wanted to add an eight percent finance charge if the house wasn’t sold in one year. He says the school board agreed to pay for the supplies before the eight percent charge was enforced if that was the case.

The second proposal, Barriger said, involved he, along with other members of the community, purchasing the house from the school and attempting to sell it themselves.

“I told them ‘We will take the risk as far as reselling this house,’” Barriger said.

However, the board was hesitant to approve that proposal, as well as the third one proposed which Barriger said would allow him to purchase the house on a line of credit.

In the end, he said the board agreed to go with his first proposal.

“I think they (board) made the right decision,” Barriger said. “Now we’ve gone to building a 1,500 square foot house on the school property.”

But as mentioned earlier, that won’t be the only building trades project on the students’ plate. The class will also be integral in getting a Habitat For Humanity house underway.

“They are going to help us with our home,” said Arenac County Habitat For Humanity Chairman Tom McCoy. “We’re going to get moving on the project right away.”

“We’re going to work with them the best we can,” Barriger said, adding the group currently only has $18,000 on hand now, though. “At best we’re talking about working there four or five weeks.”

While he said working with Habitat was a better option than sitting in the classroom, he also called it a “band-aid fix.”

But McCoy says even though the students won’t do the whole project, it still works out well for everyone involved.

“I look at it as a win-win situation,” he said. “We’ll still be able to use our volunteers for part of the project and our family will have to put in what we call the ‘sweat equity.’

“I was very enlightened.”

And while Barriger and McCoy both seemed to be in good spirits Friday, it was a different atmosphere earlier in the week for Barriger and S-S Superintendent Michael Dodge – especially during the school board meeting where Barriger faced clear opposition from Board of Education members who were sternly against building a house unless it was pre-sold.

“They decided we’re not going to build a house unless we have it sold but they didn’t always follow that (in past eyars),” Dodge said, adding over the last two years, the houses had been sold before construction started. “We’ve been lucky.”

Dodge was also not pleased with the way the students were learning before the issue was resolved.

“They’re working in a book and they’re working on things in the class, but that’s not what the program’s about,” he said. “They need to be out there building a house.”

He also said doing little jobs here and there around the district, which was brought up Sept. 8 by some board members, wasn’t very practical because students may get split up and not be supervised at certain times.

But Dodge did agree with the board that they had to be cautious about how to spend the district’s funds.

And while Dodge, Barriger, Habitat For Humanity and the Board of Education were working things out, the students in the class also tried to make their voices heard.

“There was a petition that was circulated by the students,” Barriger said. He added about 600 signatures were collected from students and community members alike.

He also says some students attended the Sept. 12 meeting when it was settled the class would help Habitat as well as build on district-owned property.

And while things were shaky for a few days, both board members and Dodge reiterated the program was never in danger of being cut altogether.


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