In Belle Plaine, students have cabin fever

  • Article by: ERIN ADLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 25, 2014 - 2:00 PM

Class gives high school students a taste of the building industry.


At Belle Plaine High School, students in a construction class are building a cabin, which will eventually be transported to a northeastern Minnesota campground so campers can rent it. The class provides hands-on experience with light construction for about a dozen students, who work in teams to learn about all aspects of building a small house. Belle Plaine High School students Taylor Wendt on the left and Travis LaTour insulated the ceiling of the cabin ] Richard Sennott/Star Tribune Belle Plaine, Minn Wednesday 2/19/2014) ** (cq)

Photo: Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

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Joe Deutsch has known he wanted to be an industrial tech teacher since he was in eighth grade.

Deutsch, who teaches at Belle Plaine Junior High and High School, always liked working with his hands and interacting with people, so the job seemed like a perfect fit.

This year, Deutsch is not only using those skills, he’s teaching them to a dozen young men enrolled in his light construction class as they build a 12-by-24-foot cabin from the ground up.

The cabin will eventually be taken to northeast Minnesota and rented out at a campground on the Gunflint Trail, where Deutsch works in the summers.

This is the first time the yearlong class has been offered and the first time Deutsch has built a cabin with students, though another class used to build a garden shed, he said.

“It’s a pretty cool project,” he said.

The class teaches students skills needed to work in the homebuilding industry, like how to pour concrete, install a standing-seam steel roof, put in windows and hand-frame rafters. But it also teaches more intangible things, he said.

“I think the big one is the ability to work hard and the work ethic,” he said. “But I think it’s equally important for students to find their passion — is this something you’d like to do for a living?”

Students work on various tasks in pairs. “Because it’s a group project, I think there’s a little bit more teamwork and camaraderie, just like you would probably find at a construction site,” he said.

He hopes to finish by April, but with only a half-hour each day to work, the class is a bit behind, he said.

When complete, the cabin will be worth $6,000 to $8,000, and students will have invested about 120 class periods, he said.

“I didn’t think it took this much work,” said Brandon Legg, a sophomore in the class.

Dave Siwek, owner of a Jordan lumber company, is providing all of the necessary materials. He will also drop the cabin off near Grand Marais when it’s done.

Builders needed

An added benefit of offering a construction class now is that there’s a real demand for “more good people in the [building] industry,” Deutsch said.

During the recession, when homebuilding screeched to a halt, many workers went into other professions, and some moved away. Now, as building picks up, there are jobs to be had in Minnesota. “I’ve been preaching that to the kids,” he said.

This semester, Burnsville High School also added a class covering construction basics because of the demand for skilled workers.

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