Youngsters raise the roof

A crew of Louisa County High School students is helping build an affordable home for a local family and gaining valuable work skills they can use after they graduate.

The 10 students in Rodney Carter’s carpentry class have made rapid progress on the house on Smith Road since they began work this fall. Most are in their second year in the class, but two of the students are back for their third go-round and now have the chance to act as supervisors for the others.

“I learn a lot, which will hopefully help me out in the world,” said Nathan Schwartz, one of the third-year students, who was busy on Monday working with a younger student to build a hall closet. “I’m trying to teach the others a little bit.”

The home will be a rental owned by Fluvanna/Louisa Housing Foundation, although the tenant could buy the home at a later date. The agency owns four house lots in the neighborhood and has targeted them for rent or ownership by schoolteachers and people in other public service occupations.

The foundation sells its houses at prices just high enough to cover expenses. Aspiring homeowners who qualify receive assistance with closing costs and homeownership education, including the importance of maintaining good credit scores. 

“Getting over that big hurdle to closing is what we try to do, to get them on the right track,” said Dan Burke, the foundation’s director. “We want to set them up on the path to wealth accumulation through owning a home.”

Carter drives the students to the work site on a school bus five mornings each week. They stay from 9 a.m. until noon, one double block period, then head back to the high school for the rest of their classes.

On a recent school day, while Schwartz and sophomore C.J. Badgett built the hall closet, Lane Filer and Victor Velazquez took measurements for exterior siding. Another student operated a forklift, while others installed the siding itself. Carter supervised the students in coordination with professional contractors also present at the site, including an electrician.

Some of the more experienced students built a home during the last school year on Indian Creek Road. The group has also helped the Louisa chapter of Habitat for Humanity with some work on a house in progress on Blueberry Lane.

Carter credited the Louisa County Public Schools leadership and the career and technical education program for giving him the support he needs to direct the class. A former contractor before illness forced him to cut back on his workload, Carter jumped at the chance three years ago to teach the carpentry class. But he stipulated that he wanted to be out in the field with his students.

“I said, ‘I don’t want to build birdhouses or gun racks.’ I want to really teach these guys how to do something.

“These kids are willing to work,” he continued. “The ones who aren’t will weed themselves out when they take the first class. We started with 18 kids at the beginning of the semester,” but that number quickly dropped. 

“The kids are the ones who make it happen. I tell them, when I was their age, I couldn’t do what they’re doing.”

On the second day on the job on Smith Road, when one of Carter’s contractors wasn’t able to make it to the work site, the students did his job for him. 

“They laid most of the walls [themselves],” he said. “We had laid a foundation before this one, so they knew what to do.” Since then they’ve framed the house, put the shingles on the roof, and moved on to siding. 

“Every phase of building short of wiring, HVAC and plumbing … that’s what they’ve done up to this point.”

The house is on schedule to be completed by April 2020.