High school carpenters have nearly finished three camper cabins for the new Whitetail Woods Regional Park, and they are on schedule to be trucked out to the park in July.

Over the school year, 41 students came from their high schools to take construction trades classes at Dakota County Technical College, where they built the one-room cabins.

Their free labor made the cabins affordable for Dakota County, allowing the county to add the popular overnight getaways as a key draw for the new 425-acre park, set to open in September.

The small, rustic cabins, designed to provide a camping experience along with a roof, originally were estimated to cost $90,000. At that price, County Board members tabled the plan to build them. Later, they went ahead when it looked like student construction would drop the cost to $56,000 each — including materials and design.

That price will not hold, however, because the cold winter forced a lot of construction into the indoor shop and spring rain also stopped work. The students were kept off the project by weather for at least 40 days, forcing the county to hire contractors to do the roofing and finishing work, said Taud Hoopingarner, director of operations management for the county. That will add to the cabins' cost, but how much is not yet clear.

Overall, having the students building the cabins worked out well for the county, Hoopingarner said.

For kids, the compensation was learning what to do with wood and saws and hammers.

"It was a great project,'' said Paul Landwehr, construction trades instructor for Intermediate School District 917, who taught and supervised the students through the cabin construction. "The kids got to work on something really cool."

Construction classes are perfect for bright students who want a new challenge, for students who like hands-on learning and for active kids who "can't sit behind a desk all day and all they do is get yelled at," Landwehr said.

A plus for the students

Six students who finished the class last week all said they signed up to build the cabins for a change from regular classes.

"I did it because it sounded like fun, something more interesting than sitting in a classroom," said Corey Rudrud a senior at Farmington High School.

"I like hands-on experiences; I like building stuff," Farmington junior Zack Schultz said.

"These look nice," said Santana Perdomo, a Farmington High senior. "It takes time to build them, but in the end they came together and they look nice."

The 327-square-foot contemporary cabins, designed by HGA Architects of Minneapolis, are insulated for four-season use. They have a rear door at ground level, while the front end rests on concrete stilts about 8 feet above the ground as it slopes down into pine trees. This gives the cabins a treehouse appeal that is enhanced with high ceilings and large windows.

A bathhouse nearby

The cabins will have two sets of bunk beds and a table and chairs for eating. The cabins will have electric light and heat but no running water or bathrooms. The bathhouse will be a short walk away, serving all three cabins and trail users.

The county will rent the cabins for $60 a night. People will see their availability on the county parks site, Hoopingarner said.

Last week, in their final week of classes, the students cut cedar boards for the cabin decks and drilled them in place.

Landwehr was on his hands and knees inspecting the work. "When you cut this again, make sure this side is up," he said calmly as he unscrewed and repositioned a plank.

Because the cabins are built to last a long time, Landwehr predicts that at least some of the students will go to the park someday and see their handiwork.

The county has no immediate plans to commission more cabins, Hoopingarner said. Before building more, the county wants to see if they are popular.