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Students get pro tips in building tiny homes at Career and Technical Center

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ABINGDON, Va. — Classroom training reached a new level when more than 40 students at the Washington County Virginia Career and Technical Education Center got some pointers from the pros during the last few weeks of school.

The students, who have spent the school year building two tiny homes, were visited by representatives from the Vinyl Siding Institute, the governing body of the siding industry, and ProVia, one of the leading suppliers of vinyl siding.

During the one-day classroom experience, students were exposed to industry-approved vinyl siding installation techniques — an optional skill taught at the Abingdon school.

Several representatives flew in from other states for the classroom sessions that included lectures and hand-on demonstrations. The representatives gave advice on applying siding to the 160-square-foot tiny homes being built in the carpentry and building trades classes at the school.

The visit was arranged by Jennifer Berry Blankenship at Wholesale Vinyl & Aluminum, a local vinyl siding distributor in Abingdon, who reached out to the industry experts about the opportunity to teach the students the ins and outs of installing siding. With little construction work to go, the students mostly lack installing the siding to the buildings.

Wholesale Vinyl & Aluminum and ProVia, donated the siding for the two tiny homes being built by the students. The training course was donated by Vinyl Siding Institute.

The students were given T-shirts that displayed their school name on the front and the sponsors of the event on the back.

According to Blankenship, representatives from the institute may consider partnering with other schools throughout the country to implement programs similar to the one held in Abingdon.

Blankenship sees the partnership as a way to inspire more young people to learn building trades, particularly the installation of vinyl siding.

“There is such a huge demand for skilled trades, and there are only a few young people filling the shoes of those who are retiring. Vinyl siding applicators are almost a thing of the past,” she said.

“We hope this will be a positive way to invest in these students.”

Will Fritz, building trades instructor, and Gene Greer, carpentry instructor, at the technical education center said they can only hope that more of their students will be inspired to enter the construction field.

They’re seeing a trend where a large number of contractors are aging out of the industry and not being replaced.

“We have a good enrollment in carpentry and building trades at the school, but the percentage of students who actually go into the field and work full time is extremely low,” said Fritz.

The technical students have spent the school year sharpening their carpentry skills by building the tiny homes.

The students have learned all aspects of framing, installing windows, doors, floors, walls, shingles and roof systems, as well as basic electrical skills.

According to the instructors, this marks the only time that a tiny home has been built by classroom students in the Washington County Virginia Public School System.

“And I believe it’s a very rare occurrence anywhere in the country,” said Fritz.

Traditionally, the students used temporary walls to learn how to drill holes and install wiring and plumbing only to have the walls torn down at the end of the assignments.

“It was a waste of building supplies because once you cut the wire, it was difficult to reuse it,” Fritz said. “A lot of the materials get damaged.

“It just makes more sense to use the materials in a way that allows someone to get the benefit. Building supplies are super expensive now, so being able to repurpose that money is a win-win for everybody.”

Fritz and Greer said their students are getting to see the tiny homes built from the foundation to the roof.

“We build the tiny homes to the same specifications that a regular home would be built. We follow local building codes and international residential codes,” said Greer.

Since this is the last week of school before summer break, students will have to put finishing touches on the homes when they return in August.

The instructors said the plan is to offer the tiny homes to the public in order to recover the costs of the building supplies plus gain a generous donation from the buyers.

The donation portion will be put in a fundraising account to be used for the students, said the instructors.

Carolyn R. Wilson is a freelance writer in Glade Spring, Virginia. Contact her at news@washconews.com.

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