Skip to main content
You are the owner of this article.
You have permission to edit this article.

Construction students get hands-on training in masonry

WATERLOO — Students in Wayne Lidtke’s sustainable construction and design class have learned about house building by doing it.

They’ve framed walls, hung drywall, installed windows and doors, and done minimal wiring while building small scale houses at the Waterloo Career Center. The students will be working on some other skills, like roofing, in the Waterloo Community Schools’ program before the semester is over.

Last week, though, the nine high schoolers put down their hammers and picked up trowels. Iowa Masonry Institute members taught them lessons on mixing mortar and building a number of structures with cinder block and brick.

On Wednesday, their task was to construct a pier. The column-like structure can support a beam in a building, an overhang on an entryway or have a more decorative use at the end of a driveway.

Students shoveled mortar out of wheelbarrows onto plywood platforms. They scooped up the substance with their trowels, depositing it on the edges of a pair of cinder blocks before adding another layer of blocks.

“You put a lot of mortar there so you have a lot of contact, just so in a couple years it doesn’t fall apart,” said Hunter Pierce, a West High School senior.

Chris Busch, overseeing the students’ efforts, emphasized the importance of getting the right amount of mortar between the blocks.

“That joint is an integral part of the unit,” noted the Marshalltown-based Bricklayers & Allied Craftworkers union training director. Ideally, he said, the mortar level will be about three-eighths of an inch.

Without the right amount, “it’ll start to lose considerable integrity,” said Busch. “Three-eighths is kind of that sweet spot.”

Students were building the piers five blocks high. “Then, they’re going to veneer it with brick,” he explained. They finished the project Thursday.

As one of the students got several blocks high, Busch offered a bit of advice: “You can use your level to check that, check for level (horizontally) and plumb (vertically)” to ensure everything is straight and level.

“It’s fun, it’s something to do,” said West High junior Nathan Elliott, of learning the skill. “Better than sitting in there on a computer. I like the hands-on stuff.”

Pierce also likes learning this way and said he would consider working in construction.

Those are the sorts of responses Busch hopes for from his training sessions at schools.

“This is basically part of our recruitment,” he said. Students started with basics like learning how to spread mortar, lay brick and use a level. They also built a low wall earlier in the week.

Busch doesn’t expect everyone in the class to end up as a bricklayer. But bringing the program into schools is important to finding the next generation of workers — and the amount of time they’ve had at the career center only helps.

“This is great having a whole week in here to present masonry to kids,” he said.


Want to see more like this?

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Education Reporter

I cover local schools and higher education for The Courier, where I’ve been a reporter for the past two decades. I’m a Minnesota native and have previously worked for newspapers there and in Illinois.

Related to this story

WATERLOO — Last week, a signing ceremony formally added Cedar Valley Home Builders Association as the latest partner to sign a sponsorship dea…

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


News Alerts

Breaking News