Home is where the heart is, but the heart usually prefers a place with at least four sturdy walls and a solid roof. To that end, the city of Indianapolis and the Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township have partnered to address two issues facing the city — a housing gap and the shortage of skilled construction workers — through the construction trades program at Area 31 Career Center. The city provided $90,000 to go toward supplies to build homes.
In the construction program students erect a house over the course of a school year. They take a bus to a worksite, learn proper safety procedures, use tools, develop construction skills and work like professionals for 90 minutes every Monday through Friday. Students build the house, minus components that require certification such as electricity, heating and plumbing. Contracted workers handle those elements and teach students about their trade.
At the end of the year, students host an open house showcasing their work. Indy Gateway, an economic development nonprofit on the west side, partners with a realtor to sell the house. The profits go to Indy Gateway. So far, the two-year-old program has created two houses, both of which sold within the first day of being on the market.
“There’s not a whole lot of classes you can take where you go out every day for an hour and half and build a house with other classmates,” Trevor Schwarz, a senior, said. “You look around at other schools and they don’t have anything like that. It’s amazing how the mayor was able to help out with funding the program and help try to bring more students in and give it publicity.”
The city became interested in funding the program because of housing and skills gaps. Emily Koschnick, deputy communications director for the city, said Indianapolis has been in the process of revitalizing neighborhoods by replacing dilapidated and abandoned housing while still keeping the neighborhood spirit intact, so supporting the efforts of students making quality housing was a no-brainer. The program furthers the city officials’ agenda to help each neighborhood in need “rebuild itself, one house at a time,” said Koschnick.
City officials also appreciate how the program tackles the skills gap. Business owner Bill O’Neal knows firsthand how Indianapolis is facing a lack of qualified construction workers despite a sizable demand. Young workers are particularly rare. O’Neal even became a construction instructor at Area 31 six years ago to train youths and help close the gap.
“Most of my crew is 50 and older,” O’Neal said. “We don’t have a whole lot of younger people there. And it’s showing up now through the workforce. You’ll find a young guy here and there that’s working, but not as many as there used to be, and being able to come back and teach this program … really helps [students] step one foot closer in getting into this workforce and filling in the gaps that we need.”
Even if students decide not to go into construction, they still gain important practical skills they can use for a lifetime as well as a feeling of pride.
“I really enjoyed the house coming up, seeing it every single day step by step,” Schwarz said. “That’s probably one of my favorite things, just knowing I did that with really close friends and it all came together in the end.”
Contact staff writer Ben Lashar at 317-762-7848. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminLashar.