Home-building effort gives students on-job experience Eastern Vo-Tech program teaches teamwork, too


Step aside Bob Vila, 17-year-old Chris Kempisty has a hammer, wit, confidence and four years of training in carpentry. With his talents, he's out to build a future for himself.

In fact, Chris and about 80 other schoolmates at Eastern Vocational Technical High School in Essex hammered out a complete single-story, three-bedroom house that currently sits on display in the school's construction mall.

Chris says his experience helped him carve himself a place in a petrified job market that would otherwise be closed to many recent high school graduates.

"I'm working my way up," said Chris, who got a job making $7.50 an hour at a construction company in Hyde Park immediately after graduating in June.

Chris' contribution to the finished home included work on floor framing, installing kitchen cabinets and placing shingles and tar paper on the roof."

"I built a house, had fun and gained a lot of confidence. It was very useful in helping me to get a job."

The house, which is about 980 square feet, is complete with tan carpeting, plumbing, heating, electricity, air conditioning, painted walls, a bathroom with a tile floor, an attic, a kitchen, green Formica counter tops, a patio door, off-white vinyl siding and five windows.

The construction was a year-long project designed to give students in trade courses hands-on experience and teach them teamwork. George Malone, a plumbing shop teacher and

construction department chairman who coordinated the project, says the students' work is not child's play. Every step of the project has to be inspected and improved by Baltimore County officials.

"The average person's attitude is that teens can't do anything right," Mr. Malone said. "But when people see the houses, they're amazed. These are the same kids who might drive crazy on the roads and have initials carved in the back of their heads."

Eastern is a premier technology school in eastern Baltimore County, combining strong academics and hands-on experience in course studies.

Most of the students, who are enrolled in the carpentry, auto service technology, electronics and other technical programs, continue their studies in college or trade school or go immediately into full-time jobs.

The house now being viewed by the public was the first of seven houses constructed annually by Eastern students to be sold on the open market on a sealed-bid basis. Mr. Malone said the lowest bid for the house was $39,000.

Purchased by a retired Eastern data processing/computer instructor, the house is due to be moved by truck from the school to waterfront property in the Fort Howard area at the end of September.

The house-building program was first started by a combined effort between county and school officials to give students training and to supply low-income housing to needy families. Other homes built by students were used by the county to house caretakers of county parks.

A sign advertising the next home to be built this coming school year stands in front of the school. Interested home owners submit bids to the county's purchasing office.

The highest bidder will be granted ownership. Then, the owner ** has to hire a company to move the house from the school to a designated location.

Mr. Malone said the standard floor plan for the house is a one-story structure with three bedrooms, but students can build to the buyer's requests of just two bedrooms or make provisions for a basement. Buyers also can choose carpet and counter-top colors.

After learning safety tips and receiving other instructions in September, the students -- mostly seniors -- go to work in October.

Working a few hours each afternoon, the students finish constructing each year's house-project in May. Malone said students take serious pride in their work, some of them signing their names on the beams behind walls.

Principal Robert Kemmery said Eastern, like many technical schools, is often stereotyped as a place for academic misfits. But, he said, "There's a whole lot of thinking and application that goes into quality work. And the students' work on the houses is a clear example."

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