Kodiak students step in on building project

In this Wednesday, June 13, 2012 photo, Kodiak High School rising senior Sierra Callis levels gravel in the crawl space of the new Kodiak Island Borough projects office in Kodiak, Alaska. "It's a good feeling to build something with your hands," she said. (AP Photo/James Brooks, Kodiak Daily Mirror)

KODIAK — For a moment on Wednesday afternoon, the sun came out in Kodiak.


Breaking through clouds, sunlight lit up the Emerald Isle in a scene to make tourism promoters smile.

Sierra Callis didn’t see any of it. Grimy and dusty, she maneuvered a rake in the cramped crawl space beneath a new construction project on Signal Hill, spreading gravel. She was smiling.

“In how many other places do you get an opportunity to do something like this?” she asked.

Since May 29, three students from the Kodiak High School construction academy and two instructors have been hard at work on an expansion of the Kodiak Island Borough projects office.

“I’m pretty certain it’s not easy for them to be getting up early on their summer vacation and shoveling gravel,” said Barry Altenhof, one of two adults supervising the construction project on Wednesday.

The project began last year when the borough began looking for a contractor to connect two small cottages used by its engineering projects office. The project involved construction of a simple conference room between the two buildings, but using a contractor to build the room would have cost at least $77,000.

That’s when Kodiak High School stepped into the picture. Students in the high school’s construction academy, which teaches basic residential building techniques and practices, had just completed a banya as part of their classroom lessons.

As students looked for summer jobs, the construction academy suggested that it could do the work cheaper than an off-island contractor.

A deal was struck: The borough would provide $24,000 in supplies and a $15,000 stipend to pay for labor, which would be provided by the construction academy.

The only thing the students can’t do is the electrical work, which was scheduled to begin today. On Friday, the students will have their framing work inspected for safety. After that, the siding and roofing will be finished and interior work begun.

“I think they’ve made pretty darn good progress,” Altenhof said Wednesday as he and student Jessica Emmerson laid a waterproof membrane on the new roof of the conference room.

Below, Callis and Eldon Lester, under the supervision of KHS drafting teacher Jeremiah Steck, shoveled gravel into the crawl space beneath the addition.

The work was hot and tiring, but no one seemed to mind.

“We built the banya and now an actual building,” said Emmerson, who will be a senior next year.

When she returns to class in the fall and looks out the window, “I can say, ‘Dude, I built that,’” she said.

There are practical advantages as well. Kodiak is undergoing a government-fueled building boom topped by the $76 million Kodiak High School renovation and expansion project.

Altenhof hopes eventually to use that project as a training ground for kids in the construction academy, getting them to help build the classrooms they will use.

Even if that doesn’t take place, the skills learned this summer will help these students find jobs with construction companies working on-island, Altenhoff said.

“With the amount of work going on over the summer, they probably have a pretty good chance of doing that,” he said.

Beyond summer jobs, Emmerson has her eyes on becoming an architect. Lester and Callis each said they plan to take their skills to AVTEC, the statewide vocational training center.

And then there are those fringe benefits.

“It’s a good feeling to build something with your hands,” Callis said. “If people aren’t there to build things, it’ll never get done.”


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