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Student build takes on new life of its own

New non-profit seeks to build houses, curriculum

By Aimee Eaton

The Crested Butte Community School student build project is heading into a second year with a new lot in Crested Butte South, a new duplex design, and a new non-profit changing the way the Upper Valley may look at both classroom learning and the current housing situation.

The recently named Student Organization Achieving Results for Community, or SOAR, is the brainchild of Crested Butte Community School teacher Todd Wasinger and local builder and owner of High Mountain Concepts, John Stock.

“This is the natural progression of the project,” said Stock. “The school should be the one that benefits from the construction and the students should be making as many of the decisions behind the build as possible.”

With a goal of providing students with a hands-on education in the industrial arts, business and the trades, while also providing the Community School with a self-supporting line of funding to back the program, SOAR takes what was learned during the first year of the student build project and expands student responsibility and community buy-in.

On the ground, that looks like SOAR purchasing a lot upon which community school students enrolled in Wasinger’s design/build class design and build a house that meets all zoning, construction, and professional requirements. They will then advertise and sell the house, potentially without any deed restrictions, on the open market. Money from the sale will be used to pay off debt accrued during construction, with all profits funneled directly back into the program for use in the next build.

“We have a group of people who want to do something good,” said Stock of the individuals helping to get SOAR up and running. “Essentially, they’re offering zero percent loans to build the house. The money will be paid back with no interest when we sell the house, and the profits will go to the school for the next project. The mission is to make it self-sustaining over the course of a few years.”

Along with the initial investors who helped purchase a lot in Crested Butte South, Stock said numerous local businesses, individuals and corporations have gotten behind SOAR and its mission as in-kind donors. These donations range from lumber and supplies to ground work and earth moving.

“There has been a lot of support already,” said Wasinger. “Eventually the goal is to generate money to feed back into the school and the industrial arts program, but already it’s generating curriculum. It’s an educational program that makes money that then comes back to the school to sustain the program.”

And while neither Stock nor Wasinger is selling the SOAR program, or the houses it could produce, as an answer to the Upper Valley’s housing crunch, neither are they negating the benefits the projects could have for the community.

“The project being worked on now is a duplex in Crested Butte South with a garage for each unit,” said Wasinger. “These are going to be for sale, family homes that aren’t going to be huge.”

In other words, SOAR will be building affordable workforce housing at the upper end of the valley.

“We’re building on a lot that is part of an established community,” said Stock. “The construction and approach is avoiding separation of the classes—I see it as a mistake to have whole areas designated as deed-restricted. We want to create neighborhoods that suit everybody.”

Wasinger’s students are currently beginning the design phase for one side of the planned duplex and the garages. They’ll spend this school year designing the home and moving through the planning and review process to begin construction in late spring. They will then work under Wasinger and CBCS industrial design teacher Adam Ofstedahl, as well as Stock’s crew to build the structure during the summer. They’ll repeat the process for the other side of the duplex during the 2018-2019 school year. The approach is due to time constraints placed on the students and crews.

“This is just one class,” said Wasinger. “We don’t have enough hours to build both sides at once, but this gives us two years of work.”

Stock added the size of the home is also dictated to some degree by the students’ schedules and his crew’s availability.

“I don’t see us ever going over 1,400 square feet,” said Stock. “Small is a better fit for us in terms of time constraints and teaching opportunities. I’m hopeful that at some point we’ll go to the town and say we want to build small houses.”

While Stock and Wasinger said that might be a ways down the road, they both agree there is more then enough work ahead.

“During the first build, the town was the client,” said Wasinger. “A lot of the decisions were made by the town, and the students had to design to meet their needs. This time the students are also the client. A lot of those decisions are going to fall to them.”

While SOAR is acting as a fiscal manager for the build, and investors have worked to purchase the land for the duplex, Stock said it is the hope of SOAR’s five-person board that eventually students and the school will manage the finances and land purchases.

“The goal is that down the road there will be a land bank with lots owned by the school that can then be used in the class,” said Stock. “I’d also like to see funds from the sale of the homes going back into the industrial arts, where they could be used to grow the program and its resources.”

For more information about SOAR, which is currently working to achieve its non-profit status, or to find out how to help with the project, contact John Stock at High Mountain Concepts.

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