The legacy of the carpentry class

The legacy of the carpentry class

Mac Strobel

A cozy two story home sits on Round House Lane among 20 others of its kind, but what makes it special? This house was built by West Ottawa students in 2003 in a carpentry class. The carpentry class was around for about 40 years and created quite a legacy.

   One obvious legacy is the many houses that were built by former students that are still occupied today. Throughout the West Ottawa district,  the class built houses located on places like Byron Drive, Round House Lane, and Indigo Court that can be seen driving west of the high school campus. These houses built by the West Ottawa students were really training for what came next in many of their lives. Chris Uildriks, owner of Uildriks Construction, said that the class was invaluable to the area in helping young men and women prepare for a position in carpentry.

   Another legacy is the students that went into the trade after taking this class. Many students created businesses out of the skills they learned in the class such as the owner of Uildriks construction and many more like local builder Ed Tervoort. Many past students, after establishing their own careers, would come back and help the class that gave them their skills and would help out the students that were in the class at that time. According to Uildriks, who was a large supporter of the class and is a successful builder, “If you polled area builders, I suspect you would find that most of the successful builders have also either been through this program as young people or have had some relationship with this program.” I put this to the test with the past teacher of the class, Eric McCourt, and as he flipped through the yellow pages he quickly found eight local carpenters he either taught or knew had gone through the program. McCourt said he would find even more looking through it closer, especially if he included the plumbing, electrician, and roofing pages.

   Clearly the program was very different than anything that WO offers today. This class took an empty lot and made it into a house. Class participants could be involved in the building from the ground up. The students often were involved in the creating of the foundation of the house as they poured cement, then the students would also help frame the house along with professionals. The class even went as far to let the students participate in the electricity portion alongside electricians, the plumbing with plumbers, and the roofing with roofers.  The houses would be sold at the end of the semester and some were even bought by the teachers such as the McCourts, who bought the last house in 2003.

   But why did this program that created so many legacies end? According to McCourt, it was to save money as the Careerline Tech Center created a similar carpentry program. West Ottawa could save money by sending students there. The downfalls of this was that there wasn’t as many slots for the class at the Careerline Tech Center as there was in the previous class. Also the Careerline Tech Center class didn’t allow the the students to have the same experience building a house that would be sold and occupied.

   The WO program left a legacy that will live on for many years.