October 7 – In November 2019, Diego Ramirez is in his second year, and the lot on Fulton Avenue in Walkersville is empty.
Today, Ramirez is a senior, preparing to graduate from Tuscarora High School and take a construction management class at Frederick Community College. And on this empty lot, there is already a 1,800-square-foot home nearing completion.
Ramirez and fellow Career and Technology Center students helped lay the foundation of the structure, which represents the 33rd home the student has built. After years of hard work and a month -long delay caused by the pandemic, staff expect the house to be ready for work in the spring.
“I’m really proud of what I’ve done with my classmates,” Ramirez said Wednesday, leaning against an unfinished wall and raising his voice above a lack of bulging hammers and roaring gabas.
Frederick County Public Schools has supported student home projects since 1978. Jim Thuman, a carpenter instructor at CTC, oversees work on the last four.
The development provides opportunities for carpentry, electrical, plumbing, HVAC and landscaping students to gain hands-on experience, Thuman said. This is more important than a lecture in the classroom.
Typically, Thuman added, labor laws prohibit construction students from gaining experience at a job site before they turn 18.
“You need experience. That’s the biggest thing in having a job. It doesn’t matter how much education you have,” Thuman said. “When they come in for a job, they can say, ‘Yes, I installed trusses,’ or ‘I built the house from the ground up.'”
Thuman joked with his students on Wednesday as he showed them how to apply outdoor siding. He pointed to the printed marks on the walls indicating where each nail should go.
“This industry has made everything idiot-proof,” he said. “Or tried.”
Most school days, students bus from the CTC – located right next to the FCC campus – out to the workplace in Walkersville. Educators choose many not too far from the city because students only have a few hours in their day to travel to the site, work and travel back.
When the house is sold, Thuman said, he will use the proceeds to start looking for a new vacant lot for a future student project. But as Frederick grows and grows, he said, empty spaces become increasingly difficult to access.
“How many are left within a 10 to 15 minute radius of the FCC?” he asked. “Not quite whole – if any. So going forward, we look, what are we going to do?”
The CTC has gained a lot for the next two projects, Thuman said. Both are located on 13th Street in Frederick, near Governor Thomas Johnson High School. But after that, things are in the air.
Unlike Ramirez, who has been on the site since groundbreaking, Oakdale High School students Asher Payne and Peter Goggin are new to the project. They were both first year carpenter students, and they said the trip home reinforced their desire to pursue business work.
“It’s really true, that I’m on the outside,” said Payne, a sophomore. “It’s not like working on the book.”
When completed, the single-family home-which is to endure the same inspection process as any other residence-will have a first-floor bedroom with a walk-in closet and bathroom. Goggin and Payne worked on the installation starts of a storage unit in the master closet Wednesday.
Later this week, Thuman said, students will begin standing on walls for a separate garage with two cars.
For six months to 2020, the house sat untouched, covered with tarps. When the coronavirus pandemic struck, students had to stop their work.
Later, Ramirez and some of his classmates organized a “Saturday of work trips” at the site. They will work from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in small groups to ensure social distance.
“That’s really what drove this house,” Ramirez said.
In addition to the value of hands-on experience, Thuman said, in-house projects help students understand the tangible results of their work.
“They could actually come 30 years from now,” he said, “and the house is still here.”
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