Building trades students shape their future with the construction of Chesterton homes

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From left, CHS juniors Gavin Kantowski and Andrew Fessler put up a soffit on a house under construction on Tower Street as part of the high school’s Building Trades program. AMY LAVALLEY/Picture

Carpenter Isaiah Walters taught Chesterton high schooler Logan Henry, 18, of Valparaiso, how to clean a trowel in a bucket of water.

He later told 18-year-old Madison Barnett of Furnessville and her classmates that they would be laying vinyl plank flooring in the house building trades students are building in the 1700 block of Tower Street in the Crocker district of Chesterton.

Tuesday was a busy morning for juniors and seniors in the building trades, but Walters knew the routine well. The 18-year-old from Chesterton graduated last spring after going through the building trades and now works for A-1 Construction, which is helping build the house, along with the Indiana Regional Council of Carpenters/ Kentucky/Ohio.

Walters, like the other students in the program, had Kevin Ortiz as a teacher.

“When I started, I didn’t know anything about carpentry. Kevin showed me everything and I fell in love with it. Now it’s my day job,” he said. “To see something from start to finish is amazing.”

Above: CHS senior Madison Barnett, left, who is considering a career as an operations engineer, listens to Walters talk about laying flooring in a Tower Street home.  Below: CHS senior Logan Henry, left, learns to clean a trowel with Isaiah Walters, right, who graduated from CHS last year after attending the building trades program and now works as a Carpenter.

Above: CHS senior Madison Barnett, left, who is considering a career as an operations engineer, listens to Walters talk about laying flooring in a Tower Street home. Below: CHS senior Logan Henry, left, learns to clean a trowel with Isaiah Walters, right, who graduated from CHS last year after attending the building trades program and now works as a Carpenter.

Current students in the program hope to get the same career boost as Walters, moving straight into union apprenticeships and business jobs right out of high school.

Ortiz credited the superintendent of the Duneland School Corporation. Chip Pettit and CHS Director Brent Martinson with their support of the program.

“They’re forward thinking because let’s face it, not everyone goes to college. It gives them an option,” Ortiz said, adding that students graduate with the skills they need for the job market.

Building Trades is funded by the Porter County Career and Technical Education Center, Ortiz said, adding that 29 students participate in the program, working on the three-bedroom, two-bathroom home during morning and after-hours class times. midday.

The students, with help from A-1 Construction and plumbing and electrical contractors, began building the nearly 1,200 square foot home from scratch in early October.

AMY LAVALLEY/photos

AMY LAVALLEY/photos

“We all contributed to that,” Ortiz said. “We all got wet hands.”

The house has heated floors and a detached garage for 2½ cars. In the spring, the students will paint the moldings, landscape the property and install brick pavers between the house and the garage. Kitchen cabinets will also be built in the garage.

The house is expected to be completed by the end of the school year, Ortiz said, adding that A-1 Construction will donate to Building Trades after the house is sold and the money will go towards tools and other necessities. .

Even when licensed plumbers and electricians stepped in, the students were there.

“I try to give them a hand in everything, while being safe,” Ortiz said, adding that the first two weeks of the program are spent on safety and Federal Security Administration regulations and occupational health.

In years to come, he hopes students can start their work even earlier, helping with the design of the house. Still, the program has changed in the past few years since Ortiz took it over, when Building Trades built a house in the school parking lot, had it trucked to Michigan City for housing opportunities. nonprofit and ended it there.

Working in Chesterton saves travel time and is more convenient for students, Ortiz said, while providing greater visibility for the program in the community.

The students had nothing but kudos for the program, which they believe gives a good start to their careers in the trades.

“I wanted to be in the trades because I wanted to be an electrician when I grew up,” said junior Joel Huijon of Valparaiso, adding that he expects he will also get a better salary when he gets his job. first job.

Madison Barnett, 18, of Furnessville, took the program because she wanted to be an operations engineer, considered carpentry and returned to being an operations engineer for what she said were better benefits and a better salary.

“Nothing else interests me. I’ve always enjoyed working with my hands and being outdoors,” she said.

Junior Logan Whelan, 17, of Chesterton, also weighed his options.

“I’ve always been interested in carpentry, so I wanted to see if that’s what I wanted to do,” he said, adding that he is now considering several career paths.

“I was interested because it’s a step ahead. It’s been a good experience,” said eldest Hayden Damsch, 17, who moved from Chesterton to Crown Point.

For some students, getting into the trades is part of the generational journey.

“My dad is a carpenter and he’s been a carpenter for about 25 years,” said Logan Henry, 18, from Valparaiso. “It’s very exciting to build a house for someone to live in. It’s really cool.”

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