Home Builder’s Class: Longtime program continues but with new challenges to build from

The Ann Arbor Student Building Industry Program is ready to build its 51st house this month with lead instructor Mark Valchine and assistant Grant Welch back at the head of the class to help teach students the ins and outs and techniques and objectives that go along with such an enormous and complex project.

This year will be different – especially at the beginning.

Last year’s house, that was listed for a record $489,000 and had a sale pending earlier this month, faced some unusual challenges that the previous 49 didn’t have to overcome. When the pandemic hit in early March and forced the schools to shut down, the home was on schedule for completion.

Then, everything stopped. And we mean everything.

“We had the house dry walled and painted and we were just waiting to do the trim work when everything shut down,” Valchine said. “The students had completed everything. But we ended up having to hire out the finishing of it including the siding, the framing of the deck in the back, the trim and the doors and the final paint, which we hire out anyway.”

“In terms of skill development, they got 80 percent of their lessons. We just missed out some of the finishing pieces and that’s the best part where you get to see all the hard work come together.”

Valchine did some videos of himself doing the trim and doors and sent them to the students so they could see how it’s done.

“Construction didn’t open back up again until school was almost completed,” he said. “They all came back and helped clean out the trailer and were able to go over and look at the house.”

On April 22, 1970, the Ann Arbor School Board approved this unique project that was designed to not only show students how to build a house but actually do a majority of the work. A non-profit corporation, for the purpose of owning and financing the projects, was formed and the Ann Arbor Student Home Building Project had officially gone from idea to reality.

On Sept. 9, 1970, at a building site at 3377 Yellowstone Drive, a groundbreaking ceremony was held and the first student home building project was under way.

This coming year, house No. 51 of the program, will be very different. There will be no groundbreaking ceremony or students on site – at least to start.

HISTORY: How business leaders laid the foundation for the program

The Ann Arbor Student Building Industry Program Board of Directors voted to break ground in September and get the foundation in so everything would be in place when the students are allowed to return to the classroom.

“The schools use a platform called School-ogy” and that’s how we will communicate with the students to start the year,” Valchine said. “It’s got all the tools we need on that platform.”

Both of the morning and afternoon classes in the project are full and ready to go. They just need the schools to open back up and allow the students to return to the job site to begin that hands-on experience.

Another difference is this year’s house is scheduled to be a two-year project instead of just one year.

“We want the students to be part of the process from start to finish and by going to a two-year build this will allow us do that,” Valchine said. “The first year we want to have the house framed up with the roof done and sealed up. Next year’s classes will pick up from that spot.

“It helps take the pressure off because we are not sure when we are getting the students back on site. Our goal is to make this a student-built house and by going to two years that helps accomplish that. It’s a learning program and we want the students to be part of every phase of building a house.”

Valchine will be teaching the students with various programs, videos and lessons online, including a live broadcast to show the property in real-life and real-time.

“It’s a big learning curve with the technology for the students but they are excited to be a part of this program,” Valchine said. “And I think things will go a lot smoother after a few weeks of getting used to everything.”