Students learning building trades with sweat equity
BY KALYN BELSHA firstname.lastname@example.org September 26, 2013 6:00PM
Jorge Chavez, 17, works on Thursday to rehab a home on Aurora's East Side as part of East Aurora High School's building trades class. | Kalyn Belsha~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 28, 2013 7:41AM
AURORA — It’s a sunny, hot fall day and East Aurora High School teacher Kurt Roley’s students are dripping sweat as they haul wheelbarrows of bricks and shovel debris.
The class of 15 — all boys — are working to rehab a mauve and cream, two-story house on Aurora’s near East Side as part of their building trades class, which takes them out of the classroom and into a foreclosed home two hours a day to learn about construction.
Though East Aurora has cut its program from two sections to one and from three hours to two, it’s one of the few remaining building trades classes in the area that works on an actual home.
Many of the students aren’t taking the class to become builders, but rather as a way to learn about home improvement so they can help their families or save money repairing their own home someday.
“It’s finally actually a class I’ll need in the future,” said Jesus Morales, 16, a junior, quickly adding “besides the core classes.”
Morales, who likes to help his dad with home projects, said in the four weeks since he started the class he’s learned how to remove shingles, change an electrical outlet and pull up floor tiles.
In the past, East Aurora students built homes and the district sold them, but it stopped building about six or seven years ago, Roley said, which helped keep the program from going under, unlike many others.
For decades, districts took on the financial liability of building and selling homes. But many were left with homes for sale when the market tanked during the recession.
It took some districts years to sell homes, some at a loss, which prompted suspensions and changes to programs, especially as districts saw their budgets dwindling due to state cuts.
School districts in St. Charles and Oswego suspended their building trades programs in 2010. West Aurora students now work on school-based projects in their course, such as laying the concrete foundation for baseball batting cages and building a shed for a pre-school program.
After cutting its advanced building trades course in 2011, Batavia High School now offers an introductory building trades class that focuses on general carpentry and design, according to Brad Newkirk, the School District’s chief academic officer. The class has 42 students enrolled.
The same year, Batavia started offering STEM courses — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — that focus on design and manufacturing, which has a higher total enrollment: 64 students in two sections.
The home East Aurora students are working on, located at 315 Clark St., is one of eight owned by Joseph Corporation, an Aurora nonprofit, that are part of the Dunham Fund’s Rehab and Refill Program.
The Dunham Fund gave Joseph Corporation a five-year, $1 million interest-free loan in 2011 to buy, rehab and sell distressed or abandoned properties on Aurora’s near East Side with the goal of stabilizing the neighborhood and creating more affordable homes.
The City of Aurora has designated the area as a Neighborhood Revitalization Strategy Area.
Joseph Corp. executive director Denny Wiggins said the Clark Street home was a foreclosed property donated to the nonprofit by Chase Bank.
Wiggins said his nonprofit likely will invest $35,000 to $50,000 to fix the home and sell it for about $100,000.
East Aurora only pays for Roley’s salary, a bus for students to ride to the site and some basic tools, Roley said.
The students won’t do all the work on the home, Roley and Wiggins said. Professional contractors will do the plumbing, electric work and more difficult construction.
Students mostly focus on demolition and basic carpentry work like gutting the kitchen, ripping up carpet, installing drywall and fixtures and hanging cabinets and windows. They’ll wrap up their work around Christmas, Roley said.
“They may not be making money on it someday,” Roley said, “but they’ll be saving money.”