Stanley Garrett admitted he was a little wary of purchasing a home constructed by Waxahachie High School students. Yet as he sat in his recliner inside the red brick walls on Butcher Road, he boasted there hadn't been a single crack in the walls over 16 years.
“It’s well built, and everything has been good so far,” Garrett said before he complimented the cabinetry in the kitchen.
Before Mikel Craig became the Waxahachie ISD Support Services Coordinator, he taught under the architecture and construction career cluster within the Career, Technology Education department at WHS.
Students within the program constructed 11 homes during Craig's 26-year tenure. There have since been two additional homes constructed.
The construction students initially built portable storage buildings and sold them to the public for a steal of $250. Craig estimated the product could easily go for about $2,000 these days.
“And then we built a house, a gingerbread type house [on campus] and moved it," Craig said. "It’s still off Highway 66 towards Maypearl.”
Don Frisbee and his wife, Jo Ann, saw the finished product at the former WHS campus when they inquired about some welding. Jo Ann thought, “It was so cute” and found out there were not any bids on the $13,000 rectangle home.
Jo Ann explained the gingerbread home would not sell due to the lack of plumbing throughout the house. The couple hauled their water for two years from town and eventually installed a water system that allowed gravity to pump the water into the home.
The home was later remolded and expanded, and, during that process, Jo Ann found evidence the house was constructed by students.
“They didn’t let the kids use a nail gun so where a carpenter would put one [nail], there were like 15,” Jo Ann noted. “I think they were practicing hammering.”
Craig estimated the second house constructed by the students, located on East Ross Street, was built between 1991-92. It was also the first built off-campus, as Craig explained he decided to bus the students from campus to work on-site. This time, the students assembled the structure on the foundation of a concrete slab.
“It’s one thing to teach theory, it’s another thing to take what you’ve learned in the classroom turning it and putting it into use in a real-life situation,” Craig said. “Back then, we were able to do mostly everything.”
And do "mostly everything" they did.
The students had a hand in the development of site plans, digging ditches and installing the wiring. Over the years, Craig figured it would be best to have the students practice drywall on a few sheets and then leave it up to the professionals since the task was time oriented. Licensed professionals were also required to complete heating and air ventilation.
Craig estimated the house on East Ross Street sold for $41 a square foot, whereas to now it would be valued for $100 a square foot.
The project was funded after former CTE director, Dr. Rick McMichael, requested up to $100,000 from the Waxahachie ISD Board of Trustees. The plan was to borrow from that budget and pay it back once the house was sold.
“The board was thrilled to do it,” Craig expressed.
The third home was constructed on Butcher Road and is where Garrett, the first and only owner, still lives to this day. The fourth home was built nearby on Hampshire Street. The orange brick home has only housed two owners, with the second set taking the keys in August with their infant twins.
When Angelica and Roger Reyes, who is a 1998 WHS graduate, moved into the home in they began to renovate the living and kitchen areas for a more modern feel. As the peach-colored tile and solid wood built-ins were ripped out, there was once again proof that high school students built the home.
“It was built solidly, but we could see that they would sign the pieces they did. It was really cool,” Angelia explained. “Originally, when we started to take it apart, the idea was that we could just unscrew it out of the wall and carry it out, but that wasn’t the case. It was built to last. There were about a thousand staples in it and screws.”
The Reyes have remodeled a house before and can adequately recognize red flags related to construction. However, they are impressed with the students’ workmanship.
A few years after completing the Hampshire house, WHS students then rebuilt a home that burned down near Maypearl. McMichael gave the go-ahead to purchase the lot, and the students promptly constructed a pier-and-beam foundation on top of a concrete slab.
Another home was later built in Dorchester Place, which was the largest home built by the students and personally, Craig said he wouldn’t have minded living in it. He estimated the house sold for about $65 a square foot.
“It was a really nice house. It turned out really well,” Craig expressed.
A few years later, WHS partnered with Habitat for Humanity of Ellis County and Craig even served as president of the board. A total of four homes were completed in Waxahachie East on East Main through the partnership, as well as two houses side-by-side on Wyatt Street and a final home west of University Avenue.
The students later completed a community service project by completing a home behind the C.A. Wilson Company. Craig recalled a storm had damaged the house and the students were able to revive it.
“It got a little difficult to get funding and in all of that we kind of remodeled the shop, build classrooms in the high school and remodeled," Craig explained. "We were always busy finding something to do.” The students also constructed brick pillars to extend fencing around the Wyatt and Calaboose in Singleton Plaza.
BUILDING ON A NEW FOUNDATION
The CTE construction program, now headed by longtime educator Curtis Green, continues the tradition of building homes around town. Waxahachie High School partners with John Houston Homes to provide the opportunity for students to observe and assist with the build of a house — weekly.
WHS students have already aided in the completion of one home through the partnership.
Kenneth Kelley, area construction manager for John Houston Homes, estimated the house would be built in approximately 155 days. He also stressed the importance of the experiences gained by the students.
“The workforce is getting smaller as the need for homes is getting larger,” Kelley explained. “So by this class and being able to pour into them, hopefully, it sparks something, so they get intrigued by the business.”
Two current Waxahachie seniors elaborated on how the opportunity to work with John Houston Homes is vital to their future as they aspire to pursue careers in the field.
Jeremy Tamingo participated in the build last year with the home located on Country Crest Drive. His involvement in the project allowed him to earn a job as a subcontractor to install drywall and framework over the summer.
“There are little things here and there that we learned and it really did help me when we were working my first adult job,” Tamingo said. “It’s crazy to think that the little things he teaches us to help us in the real world.”
A second senior, Yoan Martinez, shared his interest in establishing his own construction business and was eager to obtain the knowledge on how to be a leader on-site. Martinez said he hoped to build himself and his family a home one day.
“I want to get all the experience I can get so when get to do something on my own one day I look back on this and do what I can do,” Martinez said.
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Ashley Ford | @aford_news | 469-517-1450