When two educators searching for a new home found one they thought was perfect, it turned out to be more than perfect: It was built by students.
Mike and Jennifer Fillman had always liked an area east of Maryland Avenue NE off Peachcrest Court NE. They’d had their eye on the area since last summer and saw the house going up, but wondered why no “For Sale” sign was posted. They asked their Realtor, who came back with the information it was being built by Kent Career Tech Center students.
“My wife and I find it ironic that me being a (retired) teacher and (her) being a parapro with students, will be buying a house built by students,” Mike said. “We love the way this has all come together for us, with learning at the core of our house.”
It all came together in the first week in June, when the couple moved into their student-built home.
Fillman retired in 2015 from his work as a fifth-grade teacher in Lowell, and now works as an education coordinator at Grand Valley State University’s WGVU Public Media. Jennifer works at Northview High School.
Another aspect they liked about the house: The expertise behind the building.
“We knew that the students were being taught the right way to build houses,” Mike said. Added Jennifer, “No shortcuts were taken. We were very impressed.”
Phil Cumings, instructor of of the Tech Center’s Applied Construction Technology program, supervised the 19 students on the two-year project along with two paraprofessionals. Another teacher worked with a group of students building a nearby house.
Cumings said his father impressed upon him the need to build things correctly the first time so you don’t have to come back and make fixes.
“That’s what I try to impress on students,” Cumings said. “We need to be as honest as we can, knowing somebody’s going to be living in the house, and make it the best we can for future owners.”
Students Rise to Expectations
Students learn the start-to-finish process of home-building in the Tech Center’s two-year program. The first year concentrates on roughing-in skills, while in the second students concentrate on the finishing aspects.
Overall, they learn about building codes, print reading, carpentry, applying siding, hanging drywall, installing windows, painting, roofing — basically everything that goes into building a house.
After high school, their skill levels are high enough for entry level jobs in roofing, siding, deck-building, rough carpentry work and more, Cumings said.
“It’s a joy to see students progress,” he said. “The big thing is to set expectations high for students; if you set high expectations, they typically will rise to them.”
Dylan Tanis of Cedar Springs took the class to get more experience in specific skills, like installing tile. He’s planning to go to Ferris State University and hopes to be a construction site manager.
“You get a lot of hands-on experience,” Dylan said. “For me, it was more about touching up my skills. You also get firsthand experience working with classmates as coworkers, and get to feel what it’s like on regular job site.”
The Fillmans spent 32 years in their previous house, where they raised two children. It only had one bath, and when they look back they wondered how they survived. Their new house has three.
They found out in mid-February the house would be their new home, and watched excitedly over the following months as the students constructed it.
“It was fun to see the different stages,” Jennifer Fillman said. “We’re blessed we had this opportunity.”