Wayne White | Managing Editor
OSAGE CITY—The foundation has been laid for Osage County
students to begin building their construction skills. And after
the completion of the first semester of a construction class
held at KanBuild in Osage City, stakeholders in the program
believe it has had a successful beginning.
Dick Allison, director of outreach program development at Allen
Community College, Burlingame, said the idea for the construction
and maintenance class began about two years ago when area school
superintendents and the college began exploring alternative
training options for vocational programs. First, a survey of
the community was conducted to determine the types of skilled
workers that local employers needed.
“We came up with a construction and maintenance technology
program,” Allison said. “We approached KanBuild
to see if they were interested in partnering with us. What came
out of it was to teach the carpentry program onsite at the plant.”
KanBuild constructs houses entirely inside its large manufacturing
plant located at the east edge of Osage City.
During the first semester, 19 students enrolled – all
but four were high school students. At second semester, one
student dropped the course and a college student was hired full-time
Allison said all of the high school students enrolled in the
class are from Osage City and Lyndon schools.
“We anticipate more schools will participate as time goes
on,” he said, noting discussions are continuing with other
schools in the county in regard to offering the class.
As established, students can earn high school and college credit
for the courses. Allison said the college has offered dual-credit
classes in other subjects for a long time, and the vocational
education classes also fit that model.
“They’re concurrent in high school and college at
the same time,” he said. “Students can earn college
credit toward an Associate in Applied Science degree.”
The half-day classes at KanBuild are held in the mornings, beginning
with instruction in the plant’s break room that also serves
as a classroom. Melvin Irey is ACC’s onsite instructor.
Allison said Irey’s experience was a good fit for the
program, as he is a carpenter and had previously taught vocational
classes in Topeka.
After classroom instruction, the students head out into the
plant, where they progress from shadowing employees to participating
in the construction process.
The first class of the program teaches safety and offers orientation
in the construction trades.
“That opens the door for any of the other classes,”
In addition to carpentry, other classes teach electrical, plumbing,
painting, pipefitting, site layout, concrete finishing, and
heating and air conditioning. All of the classes offer students
credentials through the National Center for Construction Education
and Research (NCCER).
“When they successfully complete the course work and hands-on
portion, the students obtain credentials they can take with
them anywhere in United States,” Allison said. “This
tells potential employers of their work skills.”
The college had also considered a carpentry program in which
a house is built outdoors as part of the instruction. KanBuild’s
indoor manufacturing process offers benefits that could not
be realized with outdoor construction.
“The educational system doesn’t have to go out and
spend a lot of money on a building and equipment to make it
possible for students to get hands-on experience,” Allison
Being able to work and learn in any type of weather is a definite
benefit, Irey said during a principals’ tour of KanBuild
last week. In an outdoor construction class, the weather dictates
when and which part of a house can be built. In KanBuild’s
plant, all construction processes are happening simultaneously.
“We’re kind of the envy of the state in this respect,
because it’s just an ideal setup for learning and getting
a timely processes going – not waiting to learn one process
until you’re done with another,” Allison said.
He said since KanBuild markets the houses it constructs, the
college doesn’t have to sell a house at the end of the
“Due to the economic downturn, some programs in the state
have been unable to sell a house sitting on pad,” he said.
Irey noted the program at KanBuild also offers valuable instruction
due to the company’s construction standards.
“One thing I’ve noticed since being here, is the
quality of construction of KanBuild’s homes,” Irey
said. He noted he had built 300 to 400 houses in his life.
Since the program is still in its infancy, those involved are
not certain of the benefit for KanBuild, but “I think
they have had good experiences with it,” Allison said.
He admits the students’ interaction with employees could
detract from the plant’s productivity.
“[The students] are bouncing around so much, it probably
takes away from KanBuild’s production,” he said.
“There’s a balancing act there, and we’ve
got to minimize the distraction to the operation.”
Quintin Robert, president of KanBuild, said some of the benefits
to the company are still unknown, as the program has not been
in operation long enough to provide employees. However, Robert
said, the company has a long history of working with youth in
the community, and the classes add more opportunity for that
as a centralized location for learning building trades.
“This program extends our company’s involvement
with kids,” Robert said, “and we’re happy
Allison said students are achieving the program’s goal.
“They’re there to learn, they need the hands-on
experience,” Allison said. “I think it’s a
good match when secondary and post-secondary students, business
and industry all come together. KanBuild is kind, they gave
us a work area, and they’ve been really excellent to work
with. We couldn’t ask for a better partner.”