NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Carpentry students at McCann Technical School are getting real-world experience by building an actual condominium in the classroom.
In the past, junior and senior carpentry students would show their skills by building scaled-down houses that although testing their mettle, just was not real enough.
"They learn the concepts, but it just isn't real," instructor Pat Ryan said. "And over the past couple of years, I was thinking about what we could do to really give students actual experience."
Ryan said he was inspired after dismantling a back room in the classroom that was once used as the girls' laundry room, a spray booth and most recently just storage. He said with the new space, he could literally scale up his curriculum.
"The new space really allowed us to do this," he said.
From the outside, the structure looks like five condominium units complete with siding, roofing, doors, and stairs.
Ryan said students started with a foundation in September and build the structure from the bottom up. Currently, students are working in teams of three inside the units and are preparing the walls for painting and crown molding when they return from winter break.
Ryan said although the students are using the same concepts, by building the structure to actual size they are confronted with challenges that would not arise on a smaller scale.
Junior Aubrey Tetlow agreed.
"Freshman and sophomore years, we learned the basics, but everything was on such a small scale which is easier but with this, it is more like real life," Tetlow said. "Like we actually have to lift pieces of drywall overhead which is something we wouldn't have to do with the smaller project."
Junior Josiah Champney echoed Tetlow and said the project is simply more realistic and will be more beneficial when they actually enter the field.
"It is more hands-on and we are doing stuff we will be doing on the job," he said. "When we get older this is what we are going to be doing which is nice."
Ryan, a McCann graduate, said students are learning things through this project that he did not pick up on until well after high school.
"There wasn't an inkling of what I am teaching these kids," he said. "What we are doing now I did in my 20s and 30s they are doing it now at 15 and 16."
Ryan said the project crosses departments, with electrical students wiring the rooms, computer-assisted drafting students creating the designs and metal fabrication helping with the roof structure.
The project has infinite possibilities and can continue throughout the entire year, he said.
"I can keep adding and adding as long as my materials are there the skills," Ryan said. "We still have to finish the walls and lay flooring but if we want to keep going we can always add a little deck. They will be finished condos."
Ryan said he has yet to decide what to do when the condominium is "finished" but would hate to force his students to dismantle it.
"In the past, it was build, build, build and then take apart," he said. "They are doing so well with this I'd hate for them to pound in the last nail and then take it apart. It is discouraging."
Ryan said he may keep the structure up over the summer and have the incoming juniors demolish it. He said demolition can also be a teaching tool.
Ryan said the doors, windows, shingles, and siding can all be reused, and wooden beams can be salvaged and used by sophomores to build their smaller-scale projects.
"We reuse everything," he said. "We don't get rid of it until it looks like swiss cheese."
Ryan noted that his students are excited about the project.
"They came in and I showed them the plan and they could not wait," he said. "I have been teaching for 12 years I have been here for five, this is by far the most motivated class I have ever seen ... they are here for reason."
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