Wayne White/Herald-Chronicle

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 at KanBuild.

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,” Allison said.

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 said.

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 semester.

“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 with that.”

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.”