Accepting the 2012 Standing Up for Rural Wisconsin Schools, Libraries, and Communities Award Left to Right Front Row: Glenn Schiffmann, Mike Richie, Tony Evers. Left to right Back Row: Jim Brewer, Darren Rubo, David Cox, Tim Lehman.
Similar to many struggles school districts encounter, in 2008 the Northland Pines School District’s (NPSD) Board of Education was faced with a tough reality. They had an exceptional, hands- on program offered for students in the building trades field that was causing an economic and financial hardship on the district. Their struggle was amplified by the importance of this program to our students and community.
The district realized the importance of producing graduates that have the knowledge and abilities to thrive in both our local and global economy. Aside from tourism, construction is one of the main industries in our area, employing 12% of our workforce, with carpentry being the most common occupation for males in our county. Even though the district strives for all of our students to continue on to post-secondary education, 58% of our residents’ highest degree is a high school diploma. These statistics (gathered from the 2006-2010 American Community Survey provided by the U.S. Census Bureau) solidified that our high school building trades program is an essential tool for the students, families, and businesses in our county to succeed and retain qualified and educated workers necessary to our local economy and workforce.
At the end of the 2007-2008 school year, the students in the building trades course had completed their three bedroom, two bath ranch-style home building project; but, unfortunately, the home did not sell by the June cutoff date. There had been many very interested individuals, but much like the rest of the housing market in 2008, no serious buyers. School building trades programs were no strangers to these problems, but the Northland Pines School Board needed to make a decision to continue or cancel the program for the 2008-2009 school year or seek an alternative solution.
The alternative solution came from two former Northland Pines High School and building trades class graduates: Glenn Schiffmann, President and Owner, and David Cox, Vice President, of CornerStone Custom Builders, Inc., along with Dr. Mike Richie, District Administrator, and Scott Foster, Principal at the time for the Northland Pines High School. It was proposed that for the next school year, CornerStone would supply all the materials for the building project and assist in the design, while Northland Pines students would supply the labor and enjoy the educational opportunities to be obtained from this type of partnership.
At the end of the building project, CornerStone would own the home and move it to one of their selected sites, alleviating the costs and burden from the district. After discussion and collaboration of the proposed partnership, the school board and CornerStone Custom Builders, Inc., entered into an agreement for the 2008-2009 school year.
The 2012 NPHS Building Trades class just completed their fourth home under this partnership and their 24th consecutive home for the building trades program. The program has allowed the students the opportunity to learn valuable skills for work in the world of building trades and also important life skills. “This was a great partnership to enter into. Our staff, purveyors, and subcontractors who assisted the students over the past few years are all very proud and enthusiastic to continue the program each year. The hands-on opportunity given to the students seeking to enter into the building trades profession is invaluable,” stated Glenn Schiffmann.
The students participate throughout the entire construction of the home from project design, permitting, safety training, framing, and finishing. The course also ties together several core elements across the technology engineering department’s curriculum. It exemplifies rigor and relevance for any student that has the desire and drive to explore a future in design, engineering, project management, entrepreneurship, or a specialized trade within the construction field. “It probably was not the best timing economically when we were approached, but Glenn and I both felt this was about doing the right thing. We share many great memories from our high school shop experiences which, in turn, fostered our love for construction. One interesting fact of the Northland Pines building trades program most people would not necessarily know is the last three home buyers are alumni or employees of Northland Pines,” stated Cox.
Retired NPHS building trades instructor Bill Rowden explains, “Another advantage of this partnership is that the students are now accountable not only to the instructor but also to an owner who will be inspecting their work on a regular basis. The students get a better understanding of true accountability in the business world.” Dr. Richie expressed, “It was essential for us to keep this program for our students and community. We believed in it and so did CornerStone Custom Builders. By joining together, the building trades program has grown into a vital resource for our students. This program prepares and produces future builders, trade professionals, and business owners, which are a few of the more prominent careers in our area.” Schiffmann sums it up nicely stating, “We could not do this without the strong partnership between the school, material suppliers, subcontractors, and Cornerstone staff.
Recently, the partnership received statewide recognition from State Superintendent Tony Evers, who awarded NPSD and CornerStone with the 2012 Standing Up for Rural Wisconsin Schools, Libraries, and Communities Award. Mr. Evers stated, “These projects support the foundation of their rural communities and help students find a place and purpose in their lives.” NPSD and CornerStone both feel the most significant aspect of this partnership is providing the students with the educational opportunity to be successful after graduation, either on a path to continue their education at a college or technical school or begin a career in construction. As one former graduate of the program, Nathan Gebhardt, stated, “We will use these skills for the rest of our lives as future homeowners or possibly in a career.”