“It takes a village,” as the saying goes. This past Monday, June 16, the efforts of many in our own village literally moved a house.
In a collaboration between Evanston Township High School, the City of Evanston, Community Partners for Affordable Housing (CPAH), and hundreds of residents and local businesses, a one-story, three-bedroom house was built from the ground up, moved to an empty lot and will soon be occupied by a local family in need.
The Students Built the House
This is a “groundbreaking kind of project,” said Shelley Gates, chair of ETHS’ Career and Technical Education department.
Fifty-six students enrolled in ETHS’ pre-engineering course “Geometry in Construction” spent the year building the house in the south parking lot of the school.
Co teachers Matthew Kaiser, industrial technology, and Maryjoy Heineman, mathematics, combined curriculums though this course, giving students the opportunity to learn real life construction skills, hands-on problem solving and practical applications of math.
“We’re always looking for innovative ways to teach, especially in math,” said Ms. Gates. “Math scores have been fairly flat the last several years. We’re trying something different in a way that sticks with the students more.”
The class could be taken for honors credit, which can elevate a student’s GPA and help prepare those who are college-bound. Hands-on construction experience also gives students a marketable skill and can help boost their earning potential.
On top of the academic benefits of the class, students get to be involved in a city-wide service project. “This has been a really positive experience for the kids,” said Ms. Gates. “They have been so motivated and so excited. “
The City Found the Lot
The City of Evanston helped identify and purchase the lot at 1941 Jackson Ave. where the house now resides.
“The property was purchased with the City’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program 2 (NSP2) funds from the federal government,” said Sarah Flax, Housing & Grants Administrator in the City’s Community Development Department. “The building was a foreclosed frame house that had been vacant for a long time, and its condition made it infeasible to rehab. When ETHS approached us about finding a location for their Geometry in Construction house building project, it was a perfect use for this lot. It will get the property back into productive use as housing.”
The Community and Local Business helped it all come together
Through Community Build Days, hundreds of resident volunteers put on protective gear, jumped in and helped students build the house.
Todd Kihm, longtime Evanston resident, served as the general contractor on the project, providing support with the various subcontractors. “We got donations from a number of local sources,” said Mr. Kihm. “Evanston Lumber made an incredible gesture” donating and selling at cost much of the building materials. Evanston Rebuilding Warehouse also “played a huge part.” Local architect DonnaLee Floeter provided the plans for the home. ETHS Educational Foundation provided $10,000 in funding.
Now that the house is located on the lot, the project has been “turned over to professionals” to finish, Mr. Kihm said. The house has to be connected to the foundation and a deck will be added. Finishes, such as tile, flooring and fixtures still need to go in. Electrical, plumbing and HVAC work will also be completed by contractors. “We are hoping for more donations” to finish the project.
Once finished, CPAH will sell the house to a local resident in need and also work with the new home owner by offering education in concepts like “neighborhood issues and property taxes,” said Rob Anthony, CPAH executive director. CPAH will also secure affordable-housing tax credits for the property which will help fund future projects. A covenant attached to the home’s deed will insure that it remains affordable housing after its initial occupant sells the home, said Mr. Anthony.
Celebration to Come
A ribbon-cutting will cap off the end of the entire process. Once a buyer has been identified and the students are back in school this fall, the community will be invited to celebrate the completion of the project with everyone involved.
“This project is a unique collaboration that benefits Evanston in so many different ways,” said Ms. Flax.
The school plans to continue the program and build a house each year. The project is based on a program started in Loveland High School in Colorado.
“This is one of the best collaborations we’ve ever had,” said Ms. Gates.