Vocational students build tiny houses for WV flood survivors

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Students from 12 vocational schools across the state are building tiny houses to meet the needs of some of the survivors of the June 23 flood.

Students are designing and building the houses, which will be presented to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin next month.

“This is a phenomenal learning experience for our students in West Virginia, but the bigger learning experience is taking ownership of being a citizen of West Virginia and giving back to your community when you can,” said Kathy D’Antoni, chief officer of career and technical education for the state Department of Education. “It’s not just the nice thing to do, it’s the right thing to do.”

The project is a partnership between the West Virginia Department of Education and the Greater Recovery and Community Empowerment (GRaCE), an umbrella organization for the various long-term recovery committees in each of the affected counties.

“It’s quite innovative,” said Sen. John Unger, who helped set up the recovery committees. “I don’t know of other places that do that. FEMA has indicated that that’s very unusual — what West Virginia is doing. We’re really trying to break new ground by doing this.”

Tiny houses have various sizes but are generally between 100 and 400 square feet. Some are portable. Each of the houses will look different.

Carver Career and Technical Education Center is involving all of its students in the project. Carpentry, plumbing, electrical, HVAC and drafting students are building the house, while students from other programs are working on furnishing the house and stocking its kitchen with donated food, Principal Phillip Calvert said.

A quick turnaround for the houses has made the project somewhat hectic, said carpentry instructor Tom Bradley. The students had 28 days and a $20,000 budget to design and build their 8-foot-by-12-foot house, Bradley said. Homes typically take a full year from start to move-in, he said.

Bradley called the deadline “impossible,” but he said students are making it happen.

“Virtually the whole school is involved,” he said. “It’s really brought the whole school together.”

Nicholas Chapman, a carpentry student and a senior at Capital High School, said the students still need to do interior work on the house: hanging sheet rock and installing flooring and cabinets.

“It’s been pretty fun,” Chapman said. “It’s been a bigger learning experience than anything else we’ve taken on so far. It’s bigger than any other project we’ve done, so it’s getting us ready for the real work experience.”

The schools are donating the houses at no cost to the committees. The houses are taking the place of other projects the students would have been working on, D’Antoni said.

The students have also received donations from the community for the houses, including washers and dryers.

Melissa Adkins, chairwoman of the Greater Nicholas County Longterm Flood Recovery Committee, said she toured one of the houses being built at the Nicolas County Career/ Technical Center in Craigsville.

“I’m really impressed with the quality of the work the students are doing,” Adkins said. “It’s a way to give back, and at the same time, they’re learning a skill.”

In Nicholas County, more than 1,000 residents registered for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency after the June flood. Adkins said there’s still a need for adequate housing.

“We still have families that are living in tents and campers,” Adkins said.

Adkins said how exactly the houses will be distributed has yet to be decided. One option is to use them for temporary shelter for families whose homes are being rebuilt or repaired.

The schools will present 14 of the homes to Tomblin on Dec. 20. The governor’s office and greater long-term recovery committees in each of the affected counties will determine how the houses are used.