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CBCS students designing rental house head for final BOZAR review

Town decides on “flipped” floor plan and students explore challenge of micro lot

by Aimee Eaton

For some students a high school education means a few book reports, a personal essay, maybe some trigonometry or Spanish. Then top it all off with prom.

For others, like the students in Todd Wasinger’s Design/Build class at the Crested Butte Community School, it means more—much more.

“We’re designing, and will be building, a small house,” says Wasinger, who teaches classes in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) curriculum at CBCS.

Wasinger isn’t talking about a model home or a dollhouse more suited for toys than people. Rather, students in his class are building a 1,400-square-foot home on a town-owned micro-lot just southeast of the water treatment facility. It will have two bedrooms, a full bath, and views of the mountains, will be energy efficient and will adhere to all town codes and building requirements.

“We’re working closely with the town and with professionals in architecture, engineering, design and construction, but it is the students drawing the plans and designing, and ultimately building the house for the client,” says Wasinger. The client, in this case, is the town, and the house, upon its completion will be used as rental housing for town employees.

“It’s being called the CBCS cottage at 906 Butte Avenue,” says Wasinger. “It’s a straightforward rectangle foundation and architecture that will maintain historical continuity with other homes in town.”

Straightforward or not, the project is still a large one, and the students have been working daily to learn all the details that go into designing and constructing a home in the upper valley.

At the start of the class the students were divided into three groups; each group designed a home and then presented that design to the town. In January the town selected a single design with which to proceed. The groups then joined forces to fine-tune the home and prepare plans for final review by the Crested Butte Board of Zoning and Architectural Review (BOZAR). That review is scheduled for the end of February.

“There has been so much problem solving,” says Noah Dumas, a senior in the class. “You get a really good sense for problem-solving skills. We started off with a totally different set of plans, but then the town said they wanted the flipped design. Then with all of us working on it together you see everyone’s ideas and opinions like a committee. It’s more of a real life situation than other classes you would take.”

The flipped design that the town selected means the bedrooms and some storage will be on the first floor of the home, while the main living space and kitchen will be on the second floor. This is a deviation from many of the historic homes in town, where the bedrooms are on the top floor and the living space is at ground-level. In addition, the sizes of the lot and structure are a new frontier for town.

“It’s a challenge because it’s a micro-lot, and until this project that hasn’t really been explored in town,” says Catherine Washburn, a junior in the class. “It’s been a little rough but it is kind of cool that the town would trust us with one of its first micro-lots. I think we’re bringing up all these different questions and experiences that an architecture firm might not ask.”

Wasinger agrees with that assessment, noting that early on in the design process the students were able to show the town some of the limitations of micro-lots, and now the town is treating them the same as they would any design professionals.

“We went into a design review committee meeting with the town this week and the kids had integrated all the notes from a previous review. They were honestly expecting kind of a home run, but the town sent us back to the drawing board to fix some pretty large details,” says Wasinger. “As a teacher, it’s been so interesting to see the kids work really hard for an idea, then be told they need to change it. To have that experience as teenagers seems like it’s going to give them a jump later. One thing that we’re all learning is that when you have to design within these tight constraints it forces you to come up with some very creative solutions.”

Students Ryan Myers and Lily Fessenden are part of the kitchen team and have experienced first-hand the need for creativity. The kitchen is roughly 90 square feet, which sounds roomy but in reality makes for a tight fit.

“We’re thinking about workable space, and being able to move around when there is more than one person in the kitchen,” says Myers. “Then we need to create space for things like a pantry and storage. So many things are part of a kitchen: pots, pans, dishes cups, utensils. We need to determine where they’re all going to be placed. Each day we’re going into more depth and detail determining how each corner and each nook and cranny is going to be used.”

Myers, a senior, has taken all the design, engineering and architecture classes offered at CBCS, and plans to pursue mechanical engineering in college. “I like the whole design process, no matter what we’re designing. With this project we’re experiencing working with a client. It’s been a lot about taking problems that we would otherwise try to avoid and making them work,” Myers says.

Other students in the class are less focused on design details and client interaction and more focused on the hands-on processes of learning the software (a professional-level drafting and design program called Revit) and building the home.

“I took a green architecture class with Wass and really liked working on the program,” says sophomore Josh Merck. “I’m also planning on being part of the summer build and am currently taking woodshop to learn about construction. It’s cool to see that we’re actually going to build it. Just designing you don’t get the whole experience and the building of houses is a lot more complicated than I thought it was.”

If the students’ final plans are approved by BOZAR at the end of the month, Wasinger says construction could potentially begin as early as April.

“So far we’re on schedule to break ground this spring and build over the summer,” he says. “It’s been working out really well and I don’t think we could have planned it better. We’ll work toward getting our construction documentation in March. Then if we have no major hiccups we can begin the build.”

The details of how the construction will take place are still being ironed out, but so far it sounds like there will be a summer class offered for credit, and many of the students who have been part of the design process say they’ll be signing up.

“When this is done, I’ll be able to say that in junior year I built a house from the ground up—more than just built, designed and built. That’s pretty cool,” says Finn Wilson, who adds that giving up part of his summer for a school project is more than worth it. “The STEM program has the best classes—fun and challenging.”

This is the second story in an ongoing series following the student build project. Look for the next installment in a few weeks focusing on prepping for construction. 

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