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M State -- Wadena students helping to build community

Photo by Tina Bartels Students in the Carpentry Science program at M State -- Wadena worked in November on the roof of the two-story home they are building for their class project. It will replace a home destroyed in the June 17 tornado that hit Wadena.

College students in Wadena are building their skills at the same time that they're helping their community rebuild.

The dozen students are enrolled in the Carpentry Science program on the Wadena campus of M State, which is taught by Dave Kraemer. After the June 17 tornado wiped out entire neighborhoods in his community, Kraemer said he and other college officials saw an opportunity to make a lasting impact in the recovery.

Students in the one-year program typically construct a new house each year, but this year they're building on the foundation of a home that was on what Kraemer calls "ground zero" of the tornado. In the one-block area where it's located, only two homes were left standing. The 1 1/2 story rental unit formerly on the site was demolished, and the student carpenters are now building a two-story house in its place.

"It's the first time in the program that we've ever build a two-story house," Kraemer said. "It's a great learning experience for the students, 20 feet off the ground on a scaffold. We've learned a lot more safety, and they understand what it's going to be like in the real world."

Carpentry student Shelly Hanstad of Fergus Falls said she's used to working alone on projects, "but with such a big structure, I've learned that it takes a team of people to work together to get such a big task completed in a reasonable amount of time." She likes the fact that it's a two-story structure, she added, "because then you learn everything twice."

When it's done in May, the 3,200-square-foot home will have a finished basement and four bedrooms, including a master bedroom suite above the garage. While they're building on the original foundation, they did add on to the original floor plan.

Kraemer said they're also using this opportunity to learn about green building trends in the construction industry. The house will be insulated throughout with spray foam insulation, and students are working with West Central Telephone to install solar panels on the roof.

"We're going as green as we can," Kraemer said.

The home's owner pays for the cost of building materials, plus an amount equal to 20 percent of the building material cost is paid to M State.

Justin Wolden, who grew up in Wadena and graduated from high school there, said he knows that the community will never look the same after the storm, but it feels good to be helping the community rebuild, "one house at a time." Classmate Michael Becker of Swanville echoed Wolden's thoughts, saying that "it feels good to be helping the community after such a disaster."

Students in other programs at M State -- Wadena also get on-the-job training on the home, which Kraemer calls the carpentry program's "off-site lab." The heating, air exchange and air conditioning systems will be installed by students in Wadena's Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning diploma program, and Construction Electricity students will do the wiring and installation of cable and telephone.

"It's a great lab for a lot of students," Kraemer said.

Students will be on the job site four days a week until January, when they cut back to three days a week. They spend the fourth day in the classroom for instruction in blueprint reading, cabinet making and estimating.

While Curtis Aho, a student at both Menahga High School and M State -- Wadena, appreciates the opportunity to learn the carpentry trade, the Wadena project offers something extra. "I like helping people to make them happy," he said.

As a member of the Minnesota State College and Universities System, M State serves more than 6,500 students in credit courses each term through more than 120 career and liberal arts programs at its four campuses in Detroit Lakes, Fergus Falls, Moorhead and Wadena, and online. By partnering with communities, the college also provides custom training services and other responsive training programs.