Working in the cottage has reaped great skills for Basalt students



When Edgar Rojo returned to his alma mater high school in Basalt as a teacher of woodworking and construction classes, he wanted to put the kids to work on something hands-on rather than spend a lot of time staring. in books.

He hit the jackpot. Thanks to some good luck, he got a trailer and some materials needed to start building a cottage. Nearly 34 students are honing their construction skills building a residence that Rojo hopes will later auction to raise funds for another project.

The trailer and insulated structural panels were provided at Glenwood High School a few years ago for a woodworking class, but they sat unused after an instructor left.



“I heard about it, and I’m excited, being a builder,” Rojo said. “I brought it last year, then the COVID hit, and I was stuck in a trailer and no kids.”

The rules are a bit lighter this school year. There was more personal instruction, and the work in the cottage was in a safe, outdoor environment.



“Most classes aren’t fooled by a $ 50,000 project,” Rojo said. He acknowledged BHS principal Peter Mueller for being a big supporter of getting the trailer and materials from a sister school.

The plan is to have the cottage framed this fall. Then custom interior work will begin during the winter.

On a recent day in the workplace, members of a class used straps and muscle strength to raise walls. Some students rang around with glue guns to secure the walls once they were set in place; others climbed the scaffold to help maintain the panels.

Senior Jack Hamm puts skills learned while working on a ranch used in the cottage.

“It’s fun because we really go out and do stuff and it’s not sitting in a classroom writing equations,” Hamm said. “It’s going to come out and learn things. A lot of us will probably come out and work at some point.”

While he works with many of the tools that are not needed on the farm, he said he has tightened and expanded his working skills at home. He is already reading and applying blueprints. He learned how to use jigsaws better. And he learned the right way to put up panels.

He plans to stay on the project both semesters.

“We’ll do it all year,” Hamm said. “If we can get the roof before winter, I’m sure we can work on the interior and make it nice and comfortable.”

While Hamm and most classmates take wall panels in place, older Rachel Johnson measures a specific space and then cuts a 2-by-4 for a tight fit in between. of wall panels where there will be a window. The 2-by-4 will help stabilize the wall and provide a foundation that can be drilled once the window is installed, he explained.

Johnson said he was comfortable working with electrical tools from a previous job he had done with his father.

“I helped build my current house, and I helped build a bunk bed with my dad recently, so I’m definitely in the world of construction,” he said. “It’s more like, what do I have to do to help the team and then do it.”

Rojo said one of her big focuses in the class was to have students aware of what was going on around them so they could all stay safe and coordinate their efforts. This is a lesson Johnson has learned so well.

“It’s working as a team and trying not to kill each other,” he says laughing.

Johnson said he’s not sure he’ll be able to make a career in construction, but the class helps hone the skills he’ll need for do-it-yourself projects throughout his life.

Rojo got into business after he graduated from high school. He is a master craftsman with Renaissance Woodworking in El Jebel. He regularly works on high-end residential projects in Aspen.

Rojo decided four years ago to devote time in his construction career to teaching at Basalt High School three days per week, two classes per day. It was a way of going back to his school. The financial sacrifice is worthwhile and worthwhile, he said.

In addition, he believes the number of people working in trades in the Roaring Fork Valley is declining so he hopes the classes will inspire some students to pursue a career in construction.

“I think if anything, it’s planting the seed with the kids,” Rojo said.

Working in the small house in the back parking lot of the school got a lot of attention among the students.

“I have more kids who want to take class than I can,” he said.

Rojo received work management assistance from volunteer Dock O’Connell, a retired engineer who spent a career building power plants. She said she enjoys working with young men and women and witnessing them progress in their skills. It was helpful, he said, to see a student in the class tell a friend who was not in class that he helped erect the wall.

The 8-foot-wide, 40-foot-long and small house will stay permanently in the trailer-which doesn’t move like an RV but has some mobility. Large metal screws are anchored to the foundation onto the trailer.

The house will have a loft to take advantage of the space. In addition to customizing the interior, students will provide it. The class accepts furniture donations from Rojo’s contacts in the field of construction. Students destroyed equipment and reused materials for new pieces. A big emphasis is on reusing materials or using local milled wood to boost sustainability, Rojo said.

Rojo will use his contacts in the construction industry to have plumbers and electricians to prepare the cottage. He also accepts donations of materials from the construction industry.

There is no definite plan yet for when or how to auction the cottage, but Rojo is optimistic about the prospects given the housing shortage in the region.

No matter how it shakes, Rojo believes it is well worth the effort, for the kids as well as for him.

“For me, this is the feel-good aspect of it,” he said.

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