From the ground up: C4 students partner with local organizations to design, build house

When Columbus North junior Ethan Rouse passes the small gray house at 1510 Pearl St., he beams with pride.

“Being able to drive down the road and see that we built a free-standing house is so rewarding,” Rouse said.

Rouse is one of about 30 local students who have had a hand in building a house through Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp.’s C4 program. The decades-old career-preparation program connects students from eight different school districts with real-world experiences through work-based learning.

C4 offers courses in nine different clusters, or career areas, including construction engineering technology, communications and human services. After being introduced to the program, students can embed themselves in experiences such as building a house, styling hair in a real beauty salon or producing a live newscast.

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Students come from BCSC, Edinburgh, Flat Rock-Hawcreek, Greensburg, Crothersville, Seymour, Brown County and Decatur County schools to participate.

Choosing what cluster to enroll in was easy for Rouse, who wants to eventually join the carpenters’ union upon graduation.

Finding the empty lot at 1510 Pearl St. was a luck of the draw for both C4 and Eric Frey, executive director of the Southern Indiana Housing Community Development Commission. The city of Columbus had taken ownership of the property as a part of its blight elimination efforts.

The city donated the land to Frey and the commission in August 2018 as part of an effort to build affordable homes, which aligned with another pilot program aimed at helping individuals transfer into home ownership.

“Our organization, as a nonprofit, prides itself on trying to provide these types of opportunities,” Frey said. “It’s amazing when we started identifying the outcomes — improving the neighborhood, giving people opportunities for financial independence and homeownership, stabilizing and revitalizing a neighborhood, improving the quality of life of individuals.”

Around the same time, C4 construction teachers Mike Metz and Darin Johnson inquired with the city about opportunities to build a home.

The Pearl Street lot was a perfect match. It was close enough to Columbus North High School, giving students more time to build and less time to commute, and the property was already acquired by the housing development commission. It just needed a builder.

The commission contracted with C4 to build the two-bedroom, one bathroom single-story home at an affordable price in conjunction with Lincoln Central Neighborhood, who worked to identify potential homebuyers and plug them into a homeownership counseling workshop. The home is estimated to be about 1,300-square-feet.

The program will take place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 30 at YES Cinema. It is free and open to the public.

Metz and Johnson’s students started working at the house in August as soon as foundation was in place, and the goal is to be completed by the end of May.

This is the 46th house C4 has built since the program was established with homes ranging from low-income housing to those valued at $500,000.

The impact of this home extends beyond the neighborhood, Frye said. Not only does an individual receive a house that they may not have had the chance to obtain earlier in the life, but it also gives students an opportunity to play a role in that gift while having hands-on construction experience.

Students are involved from the moment the foundation is in place to the point the interior walls are painted. David Neville, a Columbus East junior, said he has done a little bit of everything, applying what he has learned from textbooks and demonstrations over the last three years.

“I’m learning how to build and be able to do this stuff on my own,” Neville said. “It’s preparing me for what I want to do as an adult.”

Metz said there’s nothing more rewarding than to see it click with his students.

“That’s the rewarding part,” Metz said. “The light goes on, it clicks, and they get it. I can walk away and trust them.”

Although the house is now surrounded by scaffolding as students finish applying siding to the house, it will soon be available to an individual who wants to buy and transition into homeownership. The home has not yet been appraised so the sale value has not been established.

Frey said the project wouldn’t have been possible without neighborhood partners including Heritage Fund — the Community Foundation of Bartholomew County, First Financial Bank, United Way, Apprisen and the city, all of which donated funds — or in the city’s case, land — to kickstart the build.

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The C4 Construction Engineering Technology cluster provides a course of study that examines many aspects of the construction engineering and design industries. Students complete minimum competencies relating to general construction before selecting a specific area of study.

Areas of study include:

  • architecture
  • architectural drafting
  • construction management
  • carpentry
  • masonry
  • electrical systems
  • mechanical systems
  • interior design
  • surveying

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