In March, with days of questionable weather, Technical and Career Education (TCE) Center students in Charlie McDaniel’s masonry class began to lay the foundation for a house at 1905 Evar Place in Virginia Beach.
Under sunny skies at the end of May, McDaniel and his students looked with pride at their completed work.
“The good thing about a project like this is they actually get to see how the weather affects your working environment and how you have to prepare for it,” said McDaniel.
“If it’s raining, you have to cover up your materials so you can work the next day,” he added, “and it gives them some on-the-job actual experience of what it’s like to have to put a house together.”
Putting houses together with the help of high school students and area professionals is what the Virginia Beach Education Foundation’s (VBEF) “The House Students Built” (THSB) program has facilitated for two decades. The VBEF will celebrate its 25-year anniversary in November, and this is the 11th THSB house.
When a THSB house is sold, all proceeds benefit the VBEF’s teacher grants program for innovative student projects. Donations of materials and expertise from area businesses defray some construction costs and help increase potential net profits from the sale.
Located right next door to 11th THSB house under construction is the 10th house. The two-story, four-bedroom home located at 1909 Evar Place was dedicated last fall and put on the market for sale.
Tallwood High School senior Kenny Wilkins helped put the finishing touches on the mailbox at the 10th house.
His lessons learned extend beyond just the hands-on skills of the trade.
“I’ve learned that working with a team is sometimes the best way to go because we couldn’t really get all this done by ourselves,” Wilkins reflected. “We learned how to work together and also how to be precise, because at the end of the day someone has to live here. So you learn care along with the brick work. It’s not just masonry.”
Precise work was noted by Cox High School senior Roberto Mottas as well.
“Making sure everything is straight and level was really frustrating at times, but that comes with any job,” he said. “The experience was worth it to me. It was definitely enjoyable.”
Issac Wilson, a senior at Green Run High School, also enjoyed the work, but that didn’t surprise him.
“My family does masonry work. It’s in my genes,” he said. “I knew I’d grow up liking it.”
However, Wilson noted, the work wasn’t without its challenges, citing weather conditions and mixing mortar.
“If the cement is too soft it won’t stick because the block is heavy,” he added. “It slides right off the bricks.”
Determination is what the house project experience has taught Wilson.
“I learned never to give up and keep pushing,” he said.
The masonry students, all seniors, look forward to graduation ceremonies in June.
Wilkins recommends underclassmen consider enrolling in a TCE Center program because of the skills and expertise students gain. After serving as a merchant seaman, he may open his own masonry business.
“It’s a good trade. The best part about it is that it’s your own artwork,” Wilkins said. “It’s very hands on and you lay those bricks. You strike it up. You do everything. It’s not like a machine is doing this, it’s you. And it’s going to be here almost for forever.”
Much more work on the 11th THSB house has to be done before it stands forever.
“We have to backfill the foundation with fill sand,” said McDaniel. “Then they’ll come in and pour the floor slab [after] the plumbers run their floor pipes and the electrician runs a couple of conduits.”
Framing the house comes next. McDaniel anticipates that will take place in the fall, when students return to school and are available to assist and learn.
“It’s a win-win situation,” said McDaniel. “It’s good publicity the people who help us, and the kids benefit from the experience they get out here that they normally wouldn’t get from a classroom or lab environment.”
He added, “We’re fortunate that we have the education foundation to back us.”