By Randall Riddle
The school year has begun and, although retired, I still long to return to Edmonds School District’s Carpentry and House Construction Class. I miss teenagers with power tools. Their enthusiasm and energy have produced 40 houses that are valued homes, the result of a 42-year partnership between Edmonds School District 15 and the Lynnwood Rotary Club.
In 1975, the district offered high school students a chance to construct an onsite house to industry standards. The Rotary supplied a site, financing, consultation and marketing. The school district’s Occupational Education Department, later called Vocational Education, Professional-Technical Education and now Career and Technical Education (CTE), provided students, teachers, educational assistants and equipment. Carpentry, Industrial Woodworking, Interior Design, Ornamental Horticulture, Visual Communication and Vocational Drafting contributed to the project. Each class had an advisory committee of representatives from the business community and organized labor.
The student-built houses have been designed to fit in with their neighborhoods. So you may be next door to — or actually living in one — without knowing. They include ramblers, split-levels, tri-levels and two-stories. Two two-story houses include finished basements. Two are Super Good Sense PUD Certified Energy Efficient. Most have three or four bedrooms; three have three-car garages; two were moved and extensively remodeled. Square footage ranges from 1,600 to 3,408 and prices from $46,800 in 1976 to $669,000 in 2016. Most were decorated by the Interior Design class and landscaped by the Ornamental Horticulture class or by Edmonds Community College Horticulture.
All of these houses are still useful homes.
Five instructors and eight educational assistants have taught the students since 1975. Merle Blevins was the first with Ray Plumb assisting. A woodworking instructor and local builder, Blevins helped Lynnwood Rotary design the carpentry program. He also coached the Mountlake Terrace High School Hawks to the 1977 state AAA basketball championship.
Myron Sollid, woodshop teacher, realtor and house builder, was the second instructor, 1982-2006. His first assistant, Ray Plumb, was followed by Randy Riddle, 1984-2006. The third teacher was Greg Kramer, 1990-91, when Sollid took a year off. Kramer was a builder of fine houses. Scott Hammond, an accomplished carpenter, followed as fourth teacher, 2006-13, working with five different assistants: Jenny Wachter, Rob Bright, Carson Schlamp, Micah Berlingame and Randy Ritter. Wachter was a student in the program in 1988-89.
Randy Sibley is the current teacher. He is accredited in the core curriculum of the Construction Industry Training Council, which represents 75 trades. His first assistant was Randy Ritter. Scott Johnson and his dog, Mad Max, are the present assistants. This is the second carpentry class dog; the first was Kramer’s dog, Max.
Rotarian Bob Bezzo served as consulting architect for many years and Rotarian Ken Pierce now manages the project. Support staff has included Marsha Bennett and Kathy Jackson, interpreters for the deaf and hard of hearing, current CTE Director Mark Madison, retired secretary Nan Bull, program specialist Michelle Ehl and program assistant Peggy Durke. Instructors Peter Green and Steve Duarte helped out in 2003-2005.
Students have come from Edmonds District high schools and, until 2007, were also from neighboring school districts via North East Vocational Area Consortium. Others came from Cyber School, Home School Resource Center and Shoreline Christian School. In 2003 students from 12 high schools completed the class. Two came from Stanwood. One took a taxi from Index and another rode transit from Bellevue and walked a mile to and from the site whatever the weather.
Jim Stark, a 1983-85 student, recently said: “You pick up skills that stick with you for a lifetime and give you confidence to do projects that inevitably you need when you rent or own a home. I was fortunate to have taken this class.” Stark, now construction sales manager for Plywood Supply in Kenmore, went directly from graduation to truss construction, a result of the carpentry class. He now chairs the CTE Carpentry Advisory Committee.
Bob Flotte, president of Prism Cabinets in Everett, took the class in 1976-77 and realized, “This is going to make me happy. It is satisfying at the end of the day to see a finished product.” The class gave him “a jump start to a career I have pursued for 40 years.”
Tim Blevins, Seattle Structural building inspector, is another early class member, 1981-83. He also helped his uncle Merle Blevins build houses. He says, “I liked building stuff, the hands-on experience, the hands-on tools and seeing something you built.” Tim served on the Carpentry Advisory Committee.
In 2005, Lynnwood Rotary’s book Blueprint for Life: The Student Housebuilding Program by June L. Cornett told the story. Many graduates have entered the trades, Carpenters Union apprenticeship training or a college-levle construction management program. The students are a cross-section of society, from student body presidents to struggling youths living in their cars. As Randy Sibley says, “This is one of the few remaining programs for a high school student to learn and prepare for work to make a living wage in the trades.”
Most have been juniors and seniors and, although only a few girls have joined the program, most were better finish workers, attending more to details. In early years, about two dozen students were in each three-hour morning and two-hour afternoon session.
Currently there is only an hour and a half class per day, so it now takes two years to complete a house. Although the class is largely on site, classroom work includes safety, tool use, math, nomenclature, blueprints and procedure. Occasionally the class returns to the classroom for testing or shelter in really bad weather.
For many years, the students built almost every part of the houses. They set stakes for the excavator, installed cedar-shake roofing, hung and finished drywall with a contractor, strung wire and nailed boxes for the electrician, painted the interior and exterior and even lacquered trim. They also installed hardwood and laminate floors. In fact, they did everything except the excavation, masonry, electrical, plumbing, countertops and carpeting.
To these skills, add problem solving and teamwork.
As Bob Flotte comments, “Someone has to put these things together.” He says he has trouble finding trained workers younger than 50 for his cabinet shop.
Our society needs young people trained in programs like this. After all, you can’t live in the box that your cell phone came in.
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