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Local High School Students Build Tiny House With Aid of Blenker Construction

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Last fall semester, high school students of the Tomorrow River School District built and completed an 160 square foot tiny house as a part of the newly created Advanced Construction class, with the help of Blenker Construction, a professional builder that services the central Wisconsin area.

Blenker Construction is now putting the tiny house up for sale for $4,500 on the Facebook Marketplace, with all profits going toward the next construction project with the students.

Jason Blenker, president of Blenker Companies, initiated the project with the TRSD back in spring 2017 to expand the high school’s construction program and to address the shortage of skilled labor by making students career-ready for the industry.

Blenker consulted with Mike Toelle, the high school superintendent, Mark Luetschwager, the high school principal, Shelley Swanson, the high school and career counselor, Matt Miller, a teacher at the high school, and Sam Ovanin, a field crew carpenter at Blenker Companies, to make his goals possible.

Their discussions resulted in the creation of a hands-on course, called Advanced Construction. The class taught Tomorrow River High School students homebuilding techniques and resulted in the creation of the tiny house.

Miller served as the facilitating instructor during the fall 2017 semester and Ovanin gave the high school students direct instruction.

“Matt Miller and Jason Blenker had the idea for a hands-on home building course at Amherst High School,” Ovanin said. “Last fall was the first Advanced Construction course. Jason offered to have me teach the program and I was very interested in that.”

Given the limited time for building a house in a semester and the marketability of tiny houses, the school and Blenker Construction said the choice of building tiny was obvious.

“We wanted something that we could complete in the time frame allotted and something a little more challenging that the students could build,” Blenker said. “We also wanted something that was marketable and could become useful for someone else down the road.”

Tiny houses are popular for a lot of reasons including promoting economical prudence, eco-friendly practices and shared community spaces. Tiny houses typically are 500 square feet or less and they can be built to suit, with everything someone would need, including kitchen, bathroom and a sleeping area. Electrical, heat and plumbing can also be added, all in a compact and efficient living space.

While tiny houses can present many current challenges for municipalities that have yet to figure out how they fit into the housing mix, from zoning regulations to transportation, Blenker said this tiny house would be a cute and novel solution to an already growing space.

“It would make a great garden shed, playhouse, or addition to someone’s backyard,” Blenker said.

The home that is for sale is eight by 20 feet, 160 total square feet and features a compact space that heats or cools easily, features a Waudena exterior door, Alliance vinyl windows, a cedar exterior and a sleeping loft to maximize space. It can also be built to suit with insulation, plumbing, drywall or whatever would be needed for its purpose.

“I think they [tiny houses] have become popular because people can build them themselves and it gives them a sense of building something, creating something unique to their style [the majority are owner built],” Blenker said.

Miller said the construction of this tiny house did just that for students of the Advanced Construction class.

“I enjoyed watching the students take pride in the house as the project progressed and the house began to take shape,” Miller said.

Ovanin also shared that the creation of the tiny house gave students a sense of accomplishment through the possession of new skills and experience gained during construction.

“As with all teaching, it was very challenging but very rewarding to see them enthusiastic about the product they produced,” Ovanin said.

Although Ovanin and Miller said that teaching the class was a challenge, they said this class gave students a foundation to further their education and interest in the field.

“We would like to inspire students to be carpenters [and be involved in] other building trades,” Ovanin said. “It’s a great feeling to light candles in the minds of young people and spark their interest in things I’m passionate about.”

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