Wednesday, January 6, 2010

the house that high schoolers built

Aspen Hill - The House That High Schoolers Built

One thing I wish I'd taken advantage of when I was younger is the Construction Trades Foundation, one of the half-day vocational programs offered at Thomas Edison High School. Each year, students in the program design, build and market a house. Over the summer, my family visited the 2008-2009 house, located at the end of Munsey Street. Its completion was profiled by the Gazette in a multi-part series.

Construction Trades Program, Aspen Hill

The program has now built thirty-seven homes since it started in 1976, the last ten of which (pictured above) are located along Connecticut Avenue north of Randolph Road in Aspen Hill. Large and clad in vinyl siding, they're easy to spot among the tiny brick 1950's-era ranchers that populate the neighborhood. The homes are built on land set aside for the Outer Beltway but is now part of Matthew Henson State Park. (You can still see the stub of an off-ramp meant to connect to the highway.)

It's a simple, solidly-built house; with four bedrooms and a two-car garage, it could be any new house going up in Montgomery County. But this house is the product of several dozen sixteen- to eighteen-year-olds and their mentors, which is reflected in some of the design choices they made. For instance, there's no formal living room. (When's the last time you used yours?) But there is a nice, deep front porch, perfect for watching the traffic on Connecticut Avenue. (I'd recommend doing this with headphones.)

My parents were put off by the French doors connecting it to the dining room. "You can tell this house was built by kids," they grumbled. But I saw it as a nice way to bring breezes inside, or allow for dinner on the porch. It was the master bathroom that gave me doubts, however. Putting it in the front of the house is always a questionable choice. So is putting a picture window next to the toilet, as my little brother demonstrated.

Aspen Hill - The House That High Schoolers Built (4)
You might want curtains. Thick curtains.

This house went on the market last spring for $589,900, which struck me as a little steep. But the money goes to a good cause - getting next year's house built. Training a new generation of designers and builders might be worth the cost.


Terry in Silver Spring said...

You're little brother is a cutie and so happy to be demonstrating there.

Terry in Silver Spring said...

Oh, good grief. Please forgive the you're vs. your boo boo there.

Thomas Hardman said...

Well, what else is anyone going to do with the Cloverleaf to Nowhere other than let kids design and build really weird houses for the homeless?

As for training the next generation of builders, my experience since the early 1980s when I was learning the trade was this: the "next generation" of home builders had already learned the trade before they snuck into the country.

Our crew of five framers, including one master carpenter, one near-master, two journeymen and myself mostly doing step-and-fetchit and air-nailing, got put out of business by a crew of 20 master carpenters from Guadalajara who lived on the site. With no overhead or bills other than for food, they could low-ball us by 50 percent, build at least as well and 4 times more quickly, and still pay each man almost as well as our own master carpenter paid himself.

You just can't compete with that sort of thing.

I only hope that these projects are teaching at least a few kids who were actually raised here and who will give back to the county that teaches them.