When Robert Stacy started teaching construction trades this year, he wanted to give his students a hands-on-everything experience.
That would normally mean taking them out to a construction site, or finding a plot of land somewhere to build something. But Stacy had another idea: Why not have a big outdoor classroom just a stone’s throw from the school?
Last month, the Fort Osage School District gave Stacy the go-ahead to do just that. On a 30,000-square-foot lot wedged between the baseball fields and Fire Prairie Upper Elementary School, the students in Stacy’s construction trades classes at the district’s Career and Technology Center will design, build and even demolish in a real worksite atmosphere.
“It’s a year-round project for these kids,” Stacy said. “They get a little bit of everything in a big way. “Basically, it’s just a giant playground for construction to go up.”
Stacy’s planned playground will have students constructing two 900-square foot homes from the foundation up. A small office building is already framed and ready for interior work, and a lean-to for storing lumber is also planned. Students will design, plan and build everything, including the fencing that will go around the lot.
Many school districts with construction technology programs will buy a plot of land, build a house and sell it, and Fort Osage has done that before. But Stacy said the district didn’t want to go that route and liked the idea of having a site on-site.
“Originally, I was just going to build a couple of pads,” Stacy said. “I threw this together one morning before we went and saw the superintendent of what we could do if we could fence it in.”
The 17 juniors and seniors enrolled in the two-year construction trades program will be responsible for every detail in building the two houses. They have to come up with the designs and blueprints and they’ll have to figure out how much lumber they will need, just as if they were putting in a bid on a project.
And then they will do every job on the site. That includes laying the concrete for the slabs, framing walls, hanging drywall, cutting rafters. And the wiring and plumbing. Stacy even plans to put in a fake water main that will require ditch work and plumbing to connect.
These houses won’t be occupied when they’re finished – Stacy said they might be demolished or remodeled. Future students might remove part of the roof on one to add another bedroom and a staircase, or knock out a wall to put in a bay window.
“Even when we’re framing, a kid on a Bobcat machine may get two and a half hours of time on the machine just moving dirt and grading ground while we’re working,” Stacy said. “If I’m able to separate the students and keep everybody busy and safe, then it becomes more and more like a construction site.
“We run everything here – including emails in the morning if you’re not going to be here – just like a construction business because I don’t know anything else.”
Teaching may be new to Stacy, but building houses isn’t. He’s spent 33 years in construction, the last 28 running R.L. Stacy and Sons Homes. Besides knowing first hand the value of hands-on construction education, he also knows the demand. For anyone willing to put in the time to learn the trade, he said there are many jobs to be had.
“We’re hurting so bad,” Stacy said. “There’s just not enough people. There’s nobody. Not enough young people have gone into this through the years, and it’s all caught up. You don’t get a bunch of kids calling you anymore when you put an ad in the paper. Years ago it was a great thing to get into construction.”
More people may be getting that message, considering the large numbers who attended a recent open house at the Career and Technology Center. Next year, Stacy will have two full classes totaling almost 40 students.
And they will all get to discover new skills on a big construction playground.
“They’re seeing that they’re good at something and how much is that worth to a young guy?” Stacy said. “That’s the good part of the job.”