SIERRA VISTA — The lot at 312 N. Second St. in the Fry Township has served as a hands-on-learning lab for students at Cochise College about the last nine months. A three-bedroom home that stands there now is the result of two semesters of study and instruction for the first class of students to complete the college’s new Residential Construction and Technology program.
Now that the home, which served as a way to teach students construction, is completed, it will go on to serve a new group — an Army family of five closing on the home next week.
The home is the first to be completed by the college’s program and 11 students earned their certificates.
“I would say about 90 percent (of the home construction) was done by the students under my guidance,” said RCT instructor Doug Schlarbaum. “Every phase of it they were involved in, from the framing, siding, roofing, flooring, cabinets, everything.”
“Personally, as the instructor, I feel like it was a success.”
The program offers flexibility for students.
It’s considered a “stackable credential” said Rod Flanigan, Dean of Business and Technology.
“If they go through the program they come out of this with a certificate and they can use that certificate to continue on another year to earn an associate’s degree,” Flanigan said. “The goal is different for each student, we don’t determine their goals we provide an opportunity for them to obtain a skill set.”
“They may decide that the certificate is all they need to gain the skill set they need to go work.”
Schlarbaum, who works as a general contractor, said he knows five of the students are already working and there are some who will be pursuing the associate’s degree.
Before students began the physical work, they received about eight weeks of training which included safety, framing and reading blueprints. They also have an electrical contractor, plumbing contractor and a mechanical contractor on board as part of the program.
“The first class is safety which is primary, paramount, the most important thing and after that it’s a fundamentals class where they learn to use all the tools we would need to build the house in that class,” Schlarbaum said.
“Each student got this blueprint, so they understand what I’m teaching them in the classroom — they can apply it in the field.”
The blueprint for the 1,394 square-foot single-family home was donated by developer Castle & Cooke, which also donated paint and fixtures.
Flanigan said that community involvement was a big part of why this project was able to be completed.
“For me the amazing part of this whole project is everybody who came together — it was really a group project all the way from the city and county to the governing board of Cochise College, to the president of the college, SACA (Southeastern Arizona Contractors Association), volunteers, administration, everybody,” he said.
“Everybody bought into this thing and really made it a success — it’s hard to pull something like this off.”
The City of Sierra Vista donated the actual land to the Cochise College Foundation and since the area is in a county enclave, Cochise County assisted.
The property was handled by Beth Hughes of Sierra Vista Realty and was on the market for $140,000.
Moving forward, the RCT program will build a mirror image of the home on the lot right next door, part of the lot donated by the City of Sierra Vista.
“It’s kind of been an education process for us too,” Schlarbaum said. “As far as the 90 percent, we want them to be 100 percent, so that’s one goal for next year is (for the students) to completely finish the house.”
With the first home acting as a pilot project for the program, there were several major lessons taken away to make the program even better.
“I think one of the important lessons learned along the way is students make mistakes — and it’s OK,” Flanigan said. “We provide a safe environment for a student to make a mistake — you go out into the real world and make a mistake and it’s not so safe.”
“That’s an important lesson to learn and it has caused us to understand that we need to allow more time, more materials.”
So far, they already have eight people registered for next semester, which starts August 19. The class will be capped at 12-15 students.
Schlarbaum made a point of encouraging women to consider the program and had one female student successfully obtain her certificate among the first group of graduates.
The hands-on learning setting provided by the program allows students to really discover if this is a career they could see themselves in.
“Experiential learning is a big thing in higher education today and this project is the very definition of experiential learning,” Flanigan said. “It’s a learning continuum where a student can learn if this is not what he or she wants.”
“That’s what it’s all about. We want students to get to a better place.”