Construction students help out Habitat

Published 8:40 pm Monday, December 27, 2010

Bob Allen, a student in Southwestern Michigan College’s construction trades technology program, prepares the peak of the Habitat for Humanity of Cass County house for siding. (Photo submitted)

Students in Southwestern Michigan College’s construction trades technology program are getting hands-on building experience via the Habitat for Humanity of Cass County organization.

Construction began on the three-bedroom Habitat home, located on North Front Street in Dowagiac, in October.

What makes this Habitat project different than others is the house is being built solely by the 19 SMC students under the supervision of the program’s instructor, Eric Kovalak.

“While the work is inspected by me on a daily basis, a state inspector has checked all the work as the students have progressed,” Kovalak said. “The mechanical work, such as electrical, plumbing and heating, has all been completed by a licensed contractor. But the framing was done by the students and passed inspection.”

By the end of November, the students had the house enclosed and were hanging sheetrock.

Kovalak said the students will work during the winter months completing the house, which will be handicapped accessible, including the construction and installation of a ramp outside.

“We have been very thrilled with the work and the progression of the project by the Southwestern Michigan College Construction Trades students,” said Ned Sutherland, board member with Habitat. “Eric has done a great job of getting quotes for the work the students couldn’t do. The experience has been a very positive one.”

This is the third group of students who have enrolled in the construction trades program, Kolvalak said.

While the two previous groups worked on another Habitat project as well as with the Boy Scouts at their camp near Jones, this is first project where the students are gaining construction experience from start to finish, Kovalak said.

“The students would rather be out here (at the Habitat construction site) than in the classroom,” Kovalak said. “They are doing a good job and are very conscientious about every aspect of the construction.”

For Bob Allen, the program is offering him the opportunity to begin a new career.

“I enjoy this,” said Allen, who was laid off from Tyler Refrigeration in Niles when the plant closed. “This program is giving me a chance to gain some useful knowledge.”

The construction trades program, which meets all the classroom instructional requirements for the construction trades apprenticeship program, is a 35-credit certificate which can be completed in one year.

SMC initially developed an accelerated construction program in 2009 to train unemployed individuals through a partnership with Michigan Works.

In addition, the SMC program prepares graduates to take the preparatory course for the Michigan residential builder, maintenance and alteration contractor license.

The certificate also segues into the associate in applied science in occupational technology at SMC and then into the bachelor’s degree in business administration with an occupational specialty through Ferris State University, which is offered on SMC’s campus.