South & West Washtenaw Consortium students learn on the job with Habitat for Humanity remodels


Saline senior Micah Davis working on installing toe-kick and quarter round in one kitchen. photo by Lonnie Huhman

It was just after twelve on a recent sunny Monday afternoon, when another group of Building Trades students made their way on bus to Oregon Avenue in Ypsilanti where they were continuing to help remodel two homes.

They are doing this through the partnership the South & West Washtenaw Consortium (SWWC) has with Habitat for Humanity Huron Valley. The remodels are a school-year long project for SWWC Building Trades students, who come from the different school districts of Manchester, Milan, Chelsea, Saline, Lincoln and Dexter.

Habitat for Humanity Huron Valley’s mission is to create opportunities for affordable homeownership for families of low-income by engaging its neighbors to build better neighborhoods through their volunteer, donation, partnership and ReStore efforts.

The SWWC offers students a variety of career and technical education opportunities.

The Sun Times News paid a visit on that Monday to see the work and learning being done.

As the students went about getting their tool belts ready and other equipment like safety glasses, it’s obvious the learning environment for them is hands-on. They gathered to talk with their Building Trades teacher Jeff Rittenhouse, who gave them the day’s tasks.

A morning crew and an afternoon crew come to the homes from the SWWC. There are around 13-16 students in each group, composed of juniors and seniors. The group that came in at 12:30 p.m. was split up with one starting to build a shed in the backyard, with the wall studs for it being cut by another group and then a third crew working on installing toe-kick and quarter round in one kitchen.

In the remodel project, Building Trades students learn to build a backyard shed. photo by Lonnie Huhman

Saline senior Micah Davis was helping to lead the crew in the kitchen. Taking a moment to talk, he said he really enjoys the program, specifically because it is so hands-on.

“I’m learning a lot and I’m not at a desk,” he said.

Whether he goes on to use this experience in a profession or if he uses it to just work on his own future home, he said he sees his time with the Building Trades program as having been well worth it.

Rittenhouse said the students are a mix of some looking ahead to a career in the building trades, with some of them already having working experience outside of school, to some students simply exploring while trying to learn some additional, handy skills.

He said what's great about the remodeling is that it has him teaching on site and the students doing actual building work and tasks.

These two students and their teacher Jeff Rittenhouse work on cutting the wall studs for the shed. photo by Lonnie Huhman

The project began with the students learning safety standards and some basics before getting into the real work of demolition and doing such things as tearing out the walls and getting the homes down to basically the bare bones.

Then at that point, they began the remodels. From the windows, flooring and walls and many things in between, whatever they can do, except some things that require a certification, the students get a chance to learn about and try.

Rittenhouse said the big goal is to prepare a student for employment in the construction industry. He said there is a shortage of construction workers and a major goal of this program is to fill that gap by preparing their students with the skills necessary for employment immediately upon graduation. He said many of the juniors take summer jobs and the seniors are ready for either immediate employment or continuing education in the Building Trades.

The specific areas of study include: site preparation, demolition, framing, door and window installation, electrical, plumbing, HVAC, insulation, drywall, masonry, finish carpentry, painting, construction techniques, and management and employability skills.

In thinking about something interesting he’s learned, Davis said he’s impressed with the energy efficiency techniques being done at the Habitat for Humanity homes.

With water proofing to putting in insulation, Davis said they’ve seen what it takes to make a home, “as energy-efficient as possible.”

The homes should be close to completion, if not already, this summer. Rittenhouse credited the SWWC and its director Ryan Rowe for making the connection with the Habitat for Humanity. He said it’s an all-around great opportunity for the students.

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