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Students team up with experts to learn construction/design business

Building a for-sale duplex in CB South

By Kristy Acuff

For the second time in two years, Crested Butte Community School (CBCS) teachers and students are partnering with local builders to construct a home from the ground up. John Stock, Jeff Bearthe and Eli Murch of High Mountain Concepts, together with CBCS teachers Todd Wasinger and Adam Ofstedhal, and numerous volunteers will guide a team of 10 students as they construct a duplex for sale in Crested Butte South.

The home was designed by students in Wasinger’s high school computer-aided design class this year and passed Crested Butte South design review committee without a hitch. Students involved in the project also completed Ofstedhal’s fundamentals of construction class this year as a prerequisite for the summer build and while they will not get paid, they will earn high school credit if they work a minimum of 80 hours.

“After the successful build last summer, we knew it was possible for students to design and build a house with our help. And then John came up with the idea, the vision, that we can do this again but sell it and use the money to sustain the program,” says Wasinger.

This summer, the group will build the first unit of the duplex, a three-bedroom, two-bathroom dwelling that measures a little over 1,200 square feet. In addition, they will build the parting wall and mechanical room to which the second unit will attach.

Next year’s students will design the second unit, with construction to follow next summer. Each unit will also have attached, 300-square-foot garages.

Last summer, students designed and built employee housing for the town of Crested Butte near Rainbow Park, but this year’s home will ultimately be sold on the free market. Profit from the sale will go directly to the non-profit Student Organization Achieving Results (SOAR) to fund future student design/build projects, including purchasing land and materials.

“Ultimately, we want this program to be self-sustaining. It was amazing teaching the kids last year, to see how happy they are to be producing something,” says SOAR board member and founder John Stock. “Part of our mission is to teach kids that everyone has a place in our community. Not everyone is going to be a doctor or a lawyer and this teaches them the pride of actually producing something they can take ownership of and say ‘I helped build that.’”

“Last year’s build was a teaching highlight for us,” says Wasinger. “The students were really engaged and we did not have any major issues around attendance, discipline or focus. Students seem to really enjoy the class. It is a great way to teach—in the field, out of the classroom. Our greatest concern is safety. We have a clean track record on safety and we were, and will be, obsessively vigilant about student safety.”

While last year’s student design/build was financed by the town of Crested Butte, this year the group is seeking financial support from donations and zero-interest loans as well as volunteer help and discounted subcontracting for the project, which is estimated to cost around $350,000 for building and land.

To date, around $200,000 in donations and loans has been acquired and dozens of builders have pledged to help. Everyone from structural engineers to painters have pledged time and/or materials to make the project successful. Local architect Andrew Hadley and lighting designer Eric Naughton have both been involved in teaching the design class, while Annie Parr helped the students with kitchen design and Dylan Brown donated the structural engineering work.

In addition, local professionals have pledged to help on the ground this summer. Stock has commitments from Blueline Builders, KD Custom Builders, Wright Angle Construction, Laggis Design and Construction, Cedar Ridge Construction, Laird & Gross Builders, Crested Butte Builders, Meridian Survey, Lacy Construction, Alpine Lumber, King Systems, Mountain Fireplace, CSI, Alpha Mechanical, Fitz’s Painting, Mountain Colors, Precise Painting, Saw Construction, EC Electric and Dragon Sheet Metal.

“Every penny of profit goes into SOAR and ultimately helps the school and the kids,” says Stock. “In addition to pledging time and materials, community members have also stepped up and given SOAR no-interest loans to get this started, and their support has been outstanding.”

Community members have helped by purchasing lumber and materials for the project directly from the lumberyard, which makes it easy for people to donate any amount. SOAR has an account under High Mountain Concepts.

“Any amount helps with the hard material costs. Ultimately, we want SOAR to be able to fund future student design/build projects and purchase land for building prior to each school year,” says Stock. “You can’t begin the design process without knowing the lot you are building on. This way the design students have a project at the start of the school year.”

Earlier this year, students in Wasinger’s architecture design class began by conducting site analysis and learning code requirements with help from Hadley before considering market research to guide their initial designs.

“We approached it by first defining the parameters and the problem definition. The students weren’t designing in a vacuum. They needed to consider topography, code, and what type of house is likely to sell,” said Wasinger. Local real estate professional Jesse Ebner of Signature Properties helped teach the class market analysis and has also committed to sell the finished house at no commission. Each of the eight architecture students submitted individual house designs that were critiqued by Hadley and Stock. Students were then paired up based on design similarities and combined their ideas to narrow the field of possibilities to four.

“The students were functioning as architects and had to modify their designs based on client feedback, which in this case, was provided by Stock, who acted as the client,” said Wasinger. “Many of the designs were traditional but one stood out as a more modern concept. That was ultimately the one John and Andrew chose. They thought it represented a youthful, refreshing design and reflected on the students as young architects.”

Following the selection process, the entire class of design students went before the Crested Butte South design review committee (DRC) to defend their proposal.

“The students were prepared and confident. The DRC asked questions about a couple of features that stood out and the students defended them with solid reasons. The committee approved it and the students were ecstatic,” said Wasinger. “A few students told me they left that meeting feeling happier about it than anything they had ever completed in high school.”

Based on last year’s experience, Wasinger expects similar sentiments during the building phase this summer. Although they have completed Ofstedhal’s construction class that teaches essential job-site safety, how to use and maintain basic tools, and framing techniques, students are nervous when they first arrive on the job site. “When they first start, they are terrified of making a mistake,” says Wasinger. “They look at a piece of fresh lumber and look at me and say, ‘I’m not cutting that.’ Sometimes they make mistakes and I tell them, ‘It’s okay, we’ll use that piece for something else.’”

“I tell them, you are going to make mistakes. Deal with it. Don’t try to hide it. Move on,” says Stock. “Students are learning that they need to make decisions about the quality of their work, that it represents who they are in a good way. I’ve had parents call to tell me the difference they see in their kid after a summer of building and producing. It’s noticeable. It’s real evolution.”

To accommodate busy summer schedules, the students who work on the project do not have to be on the job site five days a week, but must commit to work at least one full day per week all summer. Stock, Wasinger and Ofstedhal are on site throughout the week with three days devoted to teaching the students as they build and two days working with volunteer labor to put the hammer down and make quick progress. The project is located at 497 Teocalli Road in Crested Butte South.

For more information about SOAR or last year’s student build, go to

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