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School Superintendent Sold on House Built by Students

Fri April 10, 2009 - Northeast Edition
Heather Faulhefer

GETTYSBURG, Pa. (AP) It was about 9 a.m. on a chilly February morning in Gettysburg.

A group of students in Gettysburg Area High School’s Building Trades program gathered at the foot of a staircase in a house under construction.

It was so cold that they could see their breath, but none of them seemed to notice.

They were paying more attention to their teacher, Dave Snyder, as he demonstrated how to use a power-actuated fastener.

The tool put a fastener in place with a loud BOOM, and the students laughed and were eager to try it for themselves.

Snyder and fellow building-trades teacher Stan Licharowicz often instruct over the sounds of hammering and the roar of a power drill — or a heater in the winter months.

It’s not a typical classroom, but it’s a class to which students say they look forward each day.

The building trades course is part of the technology education program offered at Gettysburg Area High School. It offers students the chance to participate in all aspects of building a house, even down to the electrical wiring. Since its creation in 1992, the program has completed four houses, and students are working on the fifth.

Many of the students who participate in the program had a hand in working on the house the class finished last year — a project that took two years to complete. They say they knew the house was something special.

“I remember seeing him several times while we were working,’’ senior Jed Fetter said of Superintendent William Hall. “He was interested in what we did.’’

But Fetter said he never could have guessed that the superintendent would one day be living in the house the students built.

In what he called a testament to the students’ skill, Hall recently purchased the four-bedroom, two-and-a-half bathroom house for $280,000.

Although he hasn’t moved in yet, Hall’s purchase goes far beyond what might be expected of an administrator.

“They usually only ask that the superintendent lives in the school district,’’ he joked.

Hall said the home was a natural match for him because it came on the market at the exact time he was looking for a new home. The facts that he knew who built the house and that he had confidence in the way it was built were a big selling point, he added.

“I felt the kids were getting good instruction, that the methods in which they were being instructed were very solid, very fundamental,’’ he said. “They were getting as good a foundation and structure as they could.’’

Students get to experience both the rewards and challenges of construction, Snyder said.

“If it’s 12 degrees, they’re still out here working,’’ he said. “Through the program, students get to experience what true construction is.’’

Projects progress at a slower pace, since much of the time is spent instructing and reviewing methods to make sure the building’s done properly. What would take a contractor two to four weeks can take the class two to three months, Snyder said.

But it’s another way of getting students to think for themselves and often answer their own questions, he added.

“If I tell them everything, they don’t learn,’’ he said. “Through the program, they get hands-on experience with a lot of different phases of construction. It can also help them rule out things they don’t like.’’

Fetter said he’s worked on every part of building a house since joining the program in his sophomore year.

His classmate, Adam Wilson, a junior, said he now finds himself doing more projects around his own house.

They both actually want to go to the class — and that says a lot, they joked.

“You’re not avoiding coming to school,’’ said Fetter, who plans on working on a farm after high school and helping his father, a contractor.

And when the time comes, both students said they’ll be building their own houses.

“In the long run, it’s cheaper for you,’’ Fetter said.

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