ETHS students to build low-income home


Sammy Caiola/Daily Senior Staffer

Eric Melberg, who works at Evanston ReBuilding Warehouse, looks at a recently donated kitchen Saturday afternoon. The warehouse, 2101 Dempster St., may use the set in a new low-income home being built by Evanston Township High School students.

Sammy Caiola, Reporter

Evanston Township High School students are trading pencil cases for toolboxes this fall as they delve into Geometry in Construction, a new class in which they build a fully functional home for a low-income Evanston family.

The 60 students enrolled in the class started the construction project at the beginning of the school year and will be ready to work on the floors this week. The course syllabus says students will gain hands-on experience in construction skills ranging from plumbing to siding. The students are also learning advanced math as they deal with blueprints for the project, said Matthew Kaiser, an industrial technology teacher who co-leads the class with Maryjoy Heineman of the mathematics department.

The ETHS curriculum for the class was inspired by a similar project that started eight years ago at Loveland High School in Colorado. City and school officials gave the green light last fall, and the teachers have been planning ever since, Kaiser said.

“The idea is that the construction guides the geometry,” Kaiser said. “In Colorado, where the project started, students were able to take the concepts from the math and directly apply them to building the house. And in doing so, they saw a tremendous gain in their test scores.”

The house, which is being built in an empty parking lot near the ETHS tennis courts, will eventually be transported to a city-owned vacant lot at 1941 Jackson Ave. Rob Anthony, executive director of Community Partners for Affordable Housing, a Highland Park, Ill.-based nonprofit organization that has signed on to sell the house, said he expects to place it in the $100,000 to $120,000 bracket and already has a waiting list of buyers. He said he is not concerned about high school students building the home because it will still be overseen by professional contractors and inspected by city officials.

“It will be a well-built, quality house,” Anthony said. “It’ll be a great value for a family looking for a brand new home. I think we’ll have no trouble finding a buyer.”

Anthony said part of the profits from the house will fund the class project next year.

The house will be one story high with a long, narrow shape that is easy to transport and fits well in the vacant lot. Most materials, including window panes and furniture sets, are being donated or discounted by the Evanston ReBuilding Warehouse, a nonprofit organization that promotes the use of recycled materials in construction.

“It’s the green way to go,” said Lou Dickson, executive director of the warehouse. “A lot of the older materials are better than the newer ones. If you throw it away and buy something new, it’s just using more energy.”

The city partially funded this year’s project, and the Evanston Community Foundation gave it a $10,000 grant.

Sara Schastok, president and CEO of the foundation, said the project complements many of her organization’s goals.

“Given our interest in the workforce readiness of Evanston young adults and in affordable housing in Evanston, it was a great opportunity for us,” she said.

The new course has two sections, each of which meets once a day. Most of the work is being done in a multipurpose lab modified for the project.

Ald. Delores Holmes (5th), whose ward will include the new home, called the class a “win-win all the way around.”

“It’s a fantastic project that will be beneficial to our community, to the residents of the 5th Ward and to a very deserving family,” she said.

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