WATERLOO — Hawkeye Community College has turned a north end Waterloo neighborhood into a training ground for the next generation of construction workers.
The sound of pounding hammers, power saws and heavy equipment filled the 200 block of Newell Street on Wednesday as students of the community college’s sustainable construction and design program finished framing a new house under an innovative partnership with the city government.
“This is real-life, practical experience you can apply to almost everything in the residential field,” said Jacob Boeschen, a second-year student from Dunkerton.
“I can’t really think of a better opportunity than coming out here and constructing a tangible house,” he added. “There’s only so much you can do in the classroom. This is coming out and getting your hands dirty.”
The city donated the vacant lot and up to $137,500 for materials and the contracted plumbing, electrical and mechanical systems the students are unable to do themselves. The city expects to sell the house and reinvest the proceeds into building another home.
Former City Councilman Ron Welper, who came up with the idea nearly three years ago, said the program saves the city the cost of maintaining vacant lots and puts them back on the tax rolls while kick-starting new construction in neighborhoods starved for development.
“The whole idea is for us to go in and build a house or two and then have other developers follow us and build more homes,” Welper said. “This should be the incentive for others to start building in these neighborhoods that haven’t seen construction for years.”
HCC instructor Craig Clark said his students are getting hands-on experience putting up the one-story home with four bedrooms, two bathrooms, a detached two-car garage and high energy-efficieny rating.
“They’re getting to build a whole house from start to finish,” Clark said. “They’re out here in the mud, getting in the basket and doing all of that stuff.”
There’s a high demand for skilled construction workers. Clark said seven of his eight second-year students already have jobs lined up after graduating while most of the first-year students will have summer internships.
The local building community is also backing the effort, with many businesses donating labor and materials that have dropped the cost of the house well below the $137,5000 the city guaranteed.
Mike Fereday Heating and Air Conditioning donated the furnace material and labor. Pella Windows donated all of the windows, while Builders Select helped with other materials. Black Hawk Plumbing put in the sewer and water service at no charge, while Young Plumbing and Heating donated all of the plumbing labor.
Mike Fereday said his experience with HCC’s mechanical trades program left him enthusiastic about supporting the construction project.
“The students that come out of those classes are usually all hired before the class is finished,” Fereday said. “Our industry is so short of people that the tech schools, in my opinion, are so critical.”
Brandon Regan, of Waukon, and Taylor Kraninger, of Independence, are among the 20 first-year students working on the Newell house. They likely will be working on the second house when they return for their second year next fall.
“I’m getting to do things hands on,” Regan said. “They really teach you well.”
Kraninger said he had done some concrete work in the past but was getting his first opportunity to work on other residential construction skills.
“I like being able to see what I’m doing and then have a finished product in front of me,” he said.
Clark said the class should have the house weather-tight and shingled before winter, so the students can work indoors when its colder. The location for the second home is right next door.