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Learning on the job

Elmira District Secondary School has teamed up with MennoHomes of Kitchener to help bring more affordable housing to Elmira. Starting next fall, 15 Grade 11 and 12 students from the home building course at EDSS will help local contractors build a semi-detached home on Centre Street to create affordable rental housing space for two Woolwich families.
MennoHomes is a not-for-profit organization devoted to providing affordable housing solutions to those who need it.

For the past four years, EDSS students have been working with East Forest Homes in Kitchener to build new homes as part of a four-credit course, but this is the first time they will have the opportunity to work so close to home.

“The beauty of this one is the community involvement in a community project,” said Scott Shantz, the home building class instructor at EDSS for the past 11 years, as well as the worksite supervisor.

“The kids don’t know who exactly is going to be in it, but they know it’s in their community and there is a bigger connection in the end.”

IT STARTS HERE They may be standing on an empty lot now, but MennoHomes president Martin Buhr (left), EDSS instructor Scott Shantz, Bonnie Brubacher from Royal LePage Elmira and Clare Brubacher of Paradigm Homes hope to turn the lot into a happy home for two families ... with the help of some students from EDSS.

Shantz has more than 20 years experience in the building industry as a general contractor, and every semester he takes a new class out to a new construction site to help build a new home.

With this project, scheduled to get under way next September, the school has paired up with MennoHomes, which started back in 2001 as a part of the Mennonite Central Committee. The organization’s goal for their 10-year anniversary is to have built 100 affordable rental units for low income families, seniors, and people with disabilities over that time.

After focusing much of their work in Kitchener and Waterloo, MennoHomes expanded to Wellesley back in 2009. The two units they are building in Elmira, along with two other projects in Woolwich Township this year, will make for an even 100 by the end of 2011.

“The objective in our charter is to provide affordable housing; it’s as simple as that. A one-mission objective,” explained MennoHomes president Martin Buhr.

The property on Centre Street is about 5,500 square feet and was purchased from Blaze Properties for $125,000. EDSS and MennoHomes have also teamed up with Bonnie Brubacher from Royal Lepage and Paradigm Homes president Clare Brubacher in Elmira to help complete the project.

The class is restricted to students who are 16 years old or older due to requirements of the Ministry of Labour, and the students will begin the semester with a two-week in-class safety training program before they are allowed on the job site. Once the safety training is complete they will be involved in framing, shingling, the installation of air and vapour barrier, as well as insulating and drywalling.

Typically that’s all the students have time for in the semester.

“Our deal with MennoHomes is just the one semester, and we will do whatever we can accomplish,” said Shantz. He also said that some students will come into the class with lots of building experience, while others will have had zero experience on a construction site, and that the program is open to any student in the public school board, not just EDSS students – though the class does have a cap of only 15 students per semester.

The students will be given safety tests, a test on reading building plans, and a final exam. There will also be weekly logs and journals that they have to complete, outlining any mistakes they made during the week, or any safety precautions they took to avoid injury.

To date, there’s been no need to deal with injuries.

“I’ve never had one,” Shantz said, knocking on wood. “The worst one was a student throwing a scrap piece of wood off the second floor down to the garbage pile that had a nail in it, and the nail slid and cut his finger. And of course hammered thumbs and scraped knuckles.”

MennoHomes is now in search of trades partners  to join them in helping build the home in Elmira, in particular any company’s willing to donate labour, time or materials to their cause. The foundation is expected to be poured this August in time for the students’ arrival in September.

“Why do we think it’s a great idea?” Buhr asks. “Well, it’s a form of ownership in Woolwich Township for the township’s needs. There is a need for affordable housing for families and for seniors and this particular project on Centre Street is for families, and the students at EDSS are part of the Woolwich response, and a part of that community ownership.”

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