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Fifty Students Had a Hand in Building This New Home
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Sue Woodyard cuts the ribbon on the new house with the help of Greg Urbany, Kevin Lupton and Ian Blacker. “I’ve built a lot of homes in the valley and this house will have a special place for me because of the all the hard work students put in it,” he said.
   
Thursday, June 16, 2022
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

Greg Urbany had his hands full keeping his eyes on 12 kids at a time as they armed themselves with hammers and other tools and spread out throughout the house under construction on Woodside Boulevard.

But he enlisted the help of carpenters on their day offs to help supervise. And in four years of hammering and sawing there wasn’t a single on-the-job injury—not even a splinter.

Last week school officials cut the ribbon on the house that students in Wood River High School’s Residential Construction Academy built.

 
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The yard is waterwise, save for a small patch of grass near the patio.
 

“I love the experiential aspect of this,” said Assistant Superintendent Adam Johnson. “At my former school we had an agriculture program, some welding. But we really had nothing like this that offered real-life hands-on experience.”

The house at 2761 Winterhaven Drive looks just like any other brand new home in the valley, despite being built by students. The exterior is painted in various shades of grey. It features a white fence, paver walkway and small patio out back.

Kevin Lupton’s architecture students designed the house four years ago, taking their plans to Hailey Planning and Zoning for approval. And they landscaped the yard, as well, turning it into a waterwise yard full of drought-tolerant bunch grasses and trees.

Students in the Residential Construction Academy, which was founded in 2001, got hands-on training in carpentry, framing, electrical wiring, plumbing, insulation and other building skills as they brought the plans to fruition.

 
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Blaine County School Superintendent Assistant Superintendent Adam Johnson checks out one of the home’s two bathrooms.
 

“It’s crazy to see it finished,” said student Moss Slotten, who said he’s considering a career in construction. “I liked doing this project because I like figuring stuff out. I particularly liked finishing the trim pieces.”

Lupton said his architecture students aimed to make the living space feel as large as they could given the small footprint. They did that by designing a high open ceiling instead of a flat ceiling.

“Students worked so hard. It was fun to see them getting really excited, getting their hands in it and seeing the impact it can have as a home for someone,” said Sue Woodyard, who has championed the program since her late husband Jim Woodyard got the ball rolling with a Residential Construction Academy in Carey.

Typically, students build a home from start to finish within two years. This house took four years because of the COVID pandemic.

 
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All that’s missing in the kitchen is the pots and pans.
 

“We already don’t work during Christmas break and Spring Break. We miss time when the kids are taking their ISAT tests. Then we didn’t get anything done for six months during the COVID lockdown. When we did return to school it was in the hybrid stage so I’d bring down just six kids two days a week.  But, all told, it moved along pretty well with kids who had absolutely no experience when they began,” said construction teacher Greg Urbany, who recently retired, handing over the hammer to Ian Blacker.

Urbany recounted how under normal circumstances he would bring three different classes a day to the site from Wood River High School. Students ranged from beginners to advanced.

“I’d drive six minutes from the high school parking lot and spend one and a half hours here. Then we’d drive back and pick up another bunch. Some didn’t even know which end of the hammer was which when they  started.  This was not just a job site—it was a classroom. And it kept a lot of kids in school who otherwise might otherwise have dropped out had it not been for the program.”

It’s not clear whether Wood River High School students will have a house to build this coming year. The school district purchased the land on which this new house sits in 2007 and subdivided the property into three lots.

 
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Blaine County School Superintendent James Foudy, who was seeing the house for the first time, gives kudos to Greg Urbany and Ian Blacker, who supervised the construction.
 

Students in the Residential Construction Academy had already built houses on the additional two lots.

Carey High School students are currently working on their sixth house, having completed five since they built their first in 2002 in Carey High School’s parking lot. They’re getting ready to tackle a seventh.

Wood River High School opened its own Residential Construction Academy in 2004 with the help of a Department of Labor grant. And it has received the assistance of multiple plumbing, electric, landscaping, flooring and other businesses in the Wood River Valley, as well as financial help from individuals and organizations, including the Wood River Valley Building Contractor Association, which raises $10,000 each year for the program.

“We have kids who want to use their hands. And we want to give them lifelong skills so they can go to work right away or go on to the construction programs at College of Southern Idaho and Boise State University,” said Woodyard. “The program’s so popular that we’re having to turn kids away, and that breaks my heart.”

At the time of the ribbon cutting school district officials had not decided whether to put the house on the market or find some way to make it available to teachers, given the shortage of affordable housing in the valley.

But there’s no shortage of interest. Those who have worked on it say they have people coming by on a weekly basis asking about it.

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