- Associated Press - Friday, March 17, 2017

MARION, Ill. (AP) - Call it a unique classroom experience that demands students not only use their minds, but also their hands.

Since the start of last year, 11 students - nine seniors and two juniors - from Marion High School have been gathering for two and a half hours each school day to work on the construction of a new home.

Lester James, the building trades instructor at MHS assisting the students with the construction process, said the project began after an open lot was donated from the city to the local high school.

“In the spring 2016 semester the students went from an empty lot to a house shell under roof,” James said.

Marion Mayor Robert Butler said the course gives students hands-on experience in construction and will place a lot back on the tax roll to generate revenue for both the school district and the city.

“Of course from time to time the city does have vacant lots and rather than let them just sit there idly, we’re all in favor for the high school building trade class utilizing the lot,” Butler said. “We view it as a win-win situation.”

But before the students began building, they first had to combine their business and public speaking skills to make a proposition to their school board.

“Students from the class proposed a build to the Marion School Board December 2015 with a proposed budget of around $50,000,” James said.

“The students prepared a PowerPoint presentation of the last two Habitat for Humanity houses that they had worked on, and had prepared the budget and proposed capital outlay over a time schedule.”

After a unanimous nod from the board, the students began their work.

Over the initial phases of the building project, the students visited the city’s courthouse to complete a property search, created a budget for the vocational project, and completed a blueprint for the home.

“Work began January 2016 with students doing all phases of construction process,” James said. “They operated backhoes, skid-steers, concrete buggies (and) tractors in order to move earth and prepare foundations.”

The students also worked side-by-side with students from John A. Logan College as well as city workers who assisted with the base of the home.

“Local contractor Brian Donnelson oversaw the concrete work on the footings and slab floor while the students performed the work (and) local contractor Jason Taylor oversaw as the students laid blocks in the foundations,” James said.

Students from JALC assisted with heating and air installations and the local high school’s agriculture program pitched in with the yard work, James said.

He also said Dale Meyers from the Home Depot in Marion, Brian VanHorn and Jim Phemister from the Marion Code Enforcement Office, Larry Parks, who assisted students with plumbing, and David Norris, who assisted students with roofing, were major contributors.

“A student can read about a skill, have a teacher show them a skill, perform a skill themselves, or perform a skill with a professional and get four different learning perspectives,” he said.

Alek Jimenez, a senior who has been enrolled in James‘ various vocational courses since his junior year, said he plans to hone his skills as a business student at McKendree University in Lebanon.

“I feel like this has shown me that I don’t want to be doing this for the rest of my life,” he said.

“It’s something that I enjoy to do, but it’s not something that I would want to make a career out of but, I am happy that I did it and it’s something that I can use even in my own house when I’m older.”

For Isaac Phipps, a MHS senior also enrolled in James‘ vocational course, the course secures his confidence for job opportunities in the near future and prevents him from spending excess money when he is ready to build his own home.

“I think it will definitely open up job opportunities and help me save money on my own house,” he said. “If I wanted to build my own home, I feel like I could do whatever I want with it and it’s something that I could pass on to future generations.

“I don’t want to put this in a bad way but people are all meant for different things and this is definitely the class for kids who like to work with their hands and build things and can put in the (labor as well).”

The home was to be completed by the end of February and will be listed for sale with a local realtor.

The students plan to start constructing their next home in March, following board’s approval, during which the city will donate another lot.

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Source: The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan, https://bit.ly/2ls9tmc

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Information from: Southern Illinoisan, https://www.southernillinoisan.com

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