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Class learns construction hands-on

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POLSON — The house at 1502 15th Ave. E. has workers all around the outside, some staining pickets for the fence, some installing the pickets, some raking the dirt around the foundation and some caulking and touching up paint. Although it looks like an ordinary construction scene, it’s really the Building Trades class, a collaboration between Flathead Valley Community College and Polson High School. The course allows both college and high school students to get college credit and learn the construction trade. 

FVCC actually hires instructor Daren Gunlock, who used to teach middle school industrial arts and who has been a contractor in the area. The Lake County Builders Association also involves itself in the Building Trades class, providing resources, consulting, a house plan, and financial help in the form of construction loans and purchase of the property. Help from the LCBA was especially important this year since the 2008-2009 home sold just over a month ago.

Under Gunlock’s supervision, the students have been working on the house since they broke ground for the foundation at the end of August 2009. Every day the seven members of the morning class arrive at 8:15 and leave at 11:15 a.m. Five displaced mill workers from the Plum Creek mill in Pablo and two high school students make up the class. 

Then the 11-person afternoon crew, all PHS students, shows up from 12:45 to 3:15 p.m. 

While FVCC furnishes the power tools and sawhorses, the students each had to bring their own tape measure, a square, a tool box, a hammer, safety glasses, ear protection, chisels, a chalk line, an X-Acto knife and pencils.

Gunlock said both classes also spent a week and a half at the Loaves and Fish Pantry renovation. The students primed, painted, hung doors, painted trim, sprayed doors and sprayed trim to help get the food pantry building completed and ready to serve the Polson community.

Now the Building Trades classes are back at work on their own house, which is a little smaller than last year’s with three bedrooms and a cedar deck. The students still need to install the flooring in the home, paint the doors and install the base trim as well as complete the fence and sod the lawn.

“This house is number five,” Gunlock said, meaning this is the fifth year the Building Trades class has built a home.

Junior Brianna Morrison took the class because her parents made her; they told her the class would teach her “good skills for life” even though she wants to become a physical therapist. Her favorite part of the whole class has been putting the plywood and sheeting on the roof.

Morrison said she has learned a lot during the class. Classmate Ivan Nethercott agreed, saying Brianna swings a hammer a lot better now. 

As for why Nethercott took the class, he said, “I’m gonna graduate from high school with an associate degree.”

He did have to take speech, math, communication and safety as well business management, human relations, finance and work processing at FVCC to complete his associates.

The morning class was installing cabinets and a backsplash on the counters. Kurt Johnson from K & T Cabinets came to instruct and help the students with installation.

Gunlock had nothing but praise for area businesses, such as Jerry Whealon from Whealon Construction. He brought his concrete forms over for the foundation and showed the kids how to “snap the line” and put in the foundation. Weatherly Electric from Plains provided the wiring and got the students into the act, pulling wire and drilling holes. 

The roofer from Raven Roofing was really good also, Gunlock said. He came half a day for five days, showing the students how to do things. Cathy from Home Floor Covering picked the paint colors.

“There’s always something new,” morning student Warren Fisher said, even though he has built a couple of houses.  

One advantage of the class for Fisher is that “all these guys I worked with at the mill for 20 to 30 years.” 

Another advantage is that the class is close to home so Fisher and his classmates don’t have to drive to Kalispell. 

Even though no one likes the exterior color of the house, all the students are proud because they built the house from the ground up. So drive by 1502 15th Ave. E and take a look at their year’s work. 


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