Ellis Tech masonry students getting real world experience

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Regional - posted Wed., Jun. 19, 2013
Ellis Tech juniors Vincent Pierce, Alex Perreault and Andrew Tatro put finishing touches on the Veteran's Memorial Park wall in Canterbury. Photos by D. Coffey.
Ellis Tech juniors Vincent Pierce, Alex Perreault and Andrew Tatro put finishing touches on the Veteran's Memorial Park wall in Canterbury. Photos by D. Coffey.

H.H. Ellis Technical High School masonry students were putting some finishing touches on the Veteran's Memorial Park at Canterbury Town Hall recently when rain started to fall. Juniors Kreg O'Hara and Michael Horton worked together to link a chain into a ring attached to a 225-pound granite post. O'Hara put a torch to the metal. When it got hot enough to bend, Horton closed the ring around a chain link. The other members of their class gathered up tools and put them back into the boxes on the bus. Then they were off to their next job. It was just another day for the students in a program that teaches the foundations of masonry, and gives them actual work in the field.

Department chair Michael Daigle was on site with the students. Gray skies didn't bother the 25-year Ellis Tech veteran. “We work in the pouring rain,” he said. “We don't want to stay in.” The week before, the students had been putting in a 3-foot-high, 3-foot wide stone wall at a Boy Scout camp in Ashford. “We have about 40 feet of wall to finish before the end of the year,” he said. It didn't give them much time, but with a crew of eight in his junior class, he was certain they'd finish.

The Canterbury project was actually an assignment for his senior class. The town's Veteran's Memorial Park was situated on piece of land that sloped down to a pond. The drop was almost 10 feet. Over the years, there had been some erosion. Tom Lord, who is chair of the Canterbury Memorial Committee, put in a request to Ellis Tech: Could the masonry students build a wall to preserve and enhance the memorial?

Fifteen seniors took nine school days to finish the project. In that time they laid more than 75 tons of stone. They built the stone wall around construction tubes that would eventually hold granite posts. They sank the posts and ran lengths of 3/8 gauge black chain between them to close it off. The juniors came back to do an additional project: mounting 11 granite posts and linking chain between them. “The work speaks for itself,” Daigle said.

The decision to take on projects depends on its educational value, said Daigle. “We'd rather work with the town if we can, and homeowners who can't afford it,” he said. “We're an educational program. The boys are learning, so it’s never going to be perfect. But under my supervision, I'm going to make sure they do it to the best of their ability.”

The Canterbury project taught the juniors how to set granite posts, open rings and mount chains, how to use heat to expand metal, how to cut granite efficiently. It gave the seniors more advanced construction experience. And it was easy on Canterbury's budget. Mark Week's Landscaping donated 75 tons of stone, Ed's Sand and Gravel donated loam, and David Norel offered welding experience. Ellis Tech charged $720. Lord plans to present the school and the students with a plaque honoring their work.

Daigle is already planning future projects. He's proposed tiling the brand new construction hallway for protection and easy maintenance. “We'll give back to the school,” he said. “We're going to do some really neat stuff next year.”

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