For dozens of Grade 10 students north of Calgary, the tools of learning have gone beyond backpacks, binders, pencils, erasers and calculators.
They’ve also needed steel-toed boots, hard hats, drills, screwdrivers, nails, and hammers.
Building Futures is a partnership between veteran Airdrie-based home builder McKee Homes and Rocky View Schools that has give students the chance to play a role in the construction of a home.
“There is so much that goes into a house and it changes every day,” says Sheri McAllister, site super intendent for McKee Homes.
The builder is presently active in the Airdrie communities of Chinook Gate, Bayside, King’s Heights, Cooper’s Crossing, Ravenswood, and Lanark Landing. It builds front-drive and laned single-family homes, townhomes and duplexes.
“Unless you go through the process once you would never understand how many people actually are committed to that project to take it from start to finish.”
Not only does this program equip students with useful skills, it also shines a light on several potential career paths they may have not considered otherwise.
“It opens people’s eyes to the opportunities in the industry,” says McAllister. “I love our industry, I love my job, and I think the more people who can see the passion by people who work in this industry, I think they are inspired by that, as well.”
McAllister has been part of the program, now in its eighth year, from the get go. In fact, it was inspired by a conversation she had with her son’s then shop teacher.
“We keep brainstorming around how do we make learning applicable,” the teacher told McAllister. “How do we show students that what they are learning here matters and have that different level of connection to the material?”
The teacher then said he and a colleague “joked that it would be really cool to build a house with them because all of these things apply,” adds McAllister.
The program started with students at George McDougall High School and has since expanded to all Grade 10 students in Airdrie and Crossfield schools belonging to Rocky View Schools, a public school division.
Crossfield is a town located 15 minutes north of Airdrie.
“It’s been wonderful,” says McAllister. “We have had such a good experience, we have learned from the kids as much as they have learned from us.”
Students in the program take their regular curriculum classes in a detached garage-turned-classroom on site.
They then leave in groups of four to assist trades in tasks related to the construction of the home.
Before working on the home, these students are required to participate in safety training and fire extinguisher training.
“It’s not the same pace of a build as we would normally do,” says McAllister. “We try to space it out so the kids can get as much exposure to as many trades as possible.”
The students work with surveyors, excavators, cribbers, plumbers, electricians, insulators and framers.
“The only thing they are really limited on is roofing, we don’t let them do any high work,” McAllister says, adding that with siding, students can play a role in anything below the 10-foot mark, if the opportunity is there.
“We have a framing contractor who has been with us 7 of the 8 years and he is amazing with the kids,” says McAllister. “We joke that some of the teachers who have come and gone through the program can practically be framers because he is so good at teaching people how to frame and he is really supportive of the program.”
“One of my favourite days of the year is when the excavator comes and each kid gets to sit behind the controls and take a few scoops of dirt out of their basements,” she adds. “It’s fantastic.”
While students help with the home, the quality of the finished product must always meet McKee’s high standards.
“Since these houses have so many more eyes on them, and they run at a bit of a slower pace, there is not any time for anything to slip through the cracks,” says McAllister.
Students also get to experience what is typically the process of a builder’s interior design team.
They participate in a design challenge where they are put into groups, given a budget, and visit suppliers of interior selections.
“They have to make selections for that home within that budget and to a certain contemporary style that we layout a head of time,” says McAllister.
She’ll also take students for a broader look at residential construction in new communities.
“I take the kids in my truck and we drive to the other sites I’m working on,” McAllister says. “I show them the types of homes we are building and ‘this is what has gone really well here’ … so they get to see other sites other than just the one they are working on, as well.”
Some students who have participated in Building Futures have decided to find work in the field, taking engineering and building technologies programs in post secondary, or in the trades.
“I have also had previous students pop up on site to rough-in for plumbing, show up on cribbing crews,” says McAllister. “It’s always nice to see those faces come back.”
McKee Homes is a long-time member of the Alberta New Home Warranty Program, which gives every person who buys a home from the builder valuable peace of mind.
“The dedication that McKee has to building quality homes and supporting positive growth within the industry is fundamental,” says Michelle Rogers, account manager for ANHWP.
“The time, effort and resources that they have devoted to engaging young minds is innovative, and sharing the skills, opportunities and their own passion in this industry, solidifies the reward, integrity and pride that McKee Homes operates with every day.”