Cheney Tech students build home addition for carpentry class

By Christian Mysliwiec - Staff Writer
Manchester - posted Fri., Jan. 25, 2013
Cheney Tech students Tom Blazys, Kyle Thibodeau, Eric Kopytko and Michael Zajac break from work on Wednesday, Jan. 23. Photos by Christian Mysliwiec.
Cheney Tech students Tom Blazys, Kyle Thibodeau, Eric Kopytko and Michael Zajac break from work on Wednesday, Jan. 23. Photos by Christian Mysliwiec.

Some things just can't be learned in a classroom. This is especially true for the carpentry students at Howell Cheney Technical High School, who are learning how to build a home addition in the best way possible: by actually building a home addition.

At a private residence on Jordt Street in Manchester, Robert Hughes, head of the carpentry department at Cheney Tech, stood amidst scaffolding, giving instructions to a group of students. Donning hardhats and tool belts, they listened carefully. Then, Hughes stepped back. The students take it from there.

It was 14 degrees Fahrenheit as they worked on Wednesday, Jan. 23. But that did not deter students as they hammered, trimmed and sawed. “We have a big day planned,” said Hughes. “We're putting up our last exterior wall here.” Students trimmed off excess plywood and prepared to put the wall in place. When the last wall is completed, plans call for the construction of a tress roof and vaulted ceiling.

The building project is all part of the educational process at Cheney Tech, which prepares students to continue on in a trade. Incoming freshmen start their time at Cheney Tech exploring every department shop for two days each. They then pick their favorite three, which they attend for four days each. By Christmas time, they pick their permanent shop for the cycle. Freshmen and sophomores in the carpentry department start with the basics, learning woodworking and building cabinetry. The curriculum for juniors and seniors include the building project.

The students working on Jan. 23 were juniors. They were cleaning up the construction so that the seniors could begin building inside partitions the next day.

Students have been working on the addition since November. Hughes explained that a new system for processing production orders is to blame for the late start. By June, Hughes expects the addition to be “buttoned up” - the roof, walls and windows finished, creating a complete shell. “Normally at this point, we'd have had the roof up, and the other trades would be coming in,” he said.

The project is a multi-department effort. Cheney Tech students studying electrical, HVAC and plumbing will leave their mark on the home as well, all bringing the construction closer to the final product. If the homeowner wants the school to continue work, they will begin again next school year to put in drywall, insulation, flooring and trim around the windows and doors.

Anyone in the Manchester area can apply for the Cheney Tech program to build an addition on their property. Teachers check out the proposed home and see if the project has educational value. They work out the details with the homeowners, who must provide the project drawings. Next, Hughes works with students to develop the materials list and labor charge.

“When everyone is happy, they sign a contract,” said Hughes. The homeowner must provide the materials as well as have the foundation done. When the foundation is in, the students come in and get started.

Nearby, students were measuring a piece of plywood. One drew a mark. Two held the board down against the sawhorse and a third carefully made a cut with a power saw. What was left was a perfect square. “That's a beautiful thing, right there,” Hughes called from across the yard.

One of the students was Eric Kopytko. “I like the hands-on work and being able to work with different people,” Kopytko said. He is enjoying the learning experience greatly, and is fascinated by the building techniques he is learning on the job. “All the different ways that people can come up with on how to build a house or addition – I just find that amazing,” he said.

Kopytko is not yet sure if he wants to receive more schooling after graduating or enter a carpentry business. He hopes to one day start his own business.

The arrangement benefits all parties: the homeowners get a new addition, the school gets paid, and the students get grades and invaluable work experience. It prepares them to enter the trade as an apprentice, open their own business, or enter a union. “We just feel that the hands-on portion is critical – they're hands-on learners. We talk about it in the theory class, then we come out here and do it,” said Hughes.

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