Inspired Moments

by Jamie Schultz

Inspired Moments

Students Build a Home One Class Period at a Time

by Jamie Schultz

Students learn all there is to know about building a customized spec home.

Drive past 904 E. Glencoe St. in Palatine, IL, and you’ll see the impressive high school class project that took two years to complete—a 4-bedroom, 2,500-square-foot home built from scratch by 75 high school students with the instruction of Chris Gunsteen.

Chris Gunsteen, known as Mr. G to his students, is a high school building construction teacher with his Master’s degree, and a passion for the science of building. In his Palatine High School course he teaches students how to build a customized spec home that will eventually sell to a buyer in the area. Each of the properties the students build is owned by the school district, and when the completed home sells, the proceeds go back into the high school program.

The class gives students real world experience completing a project from just an idea to a finished home.

In the class, students learn the ins-and-outs of becoming a professional custom homebuilder and get hands-on experience—from framing the home and hanging drywall, to putting up the exterior James Hardie® siding and trim. Students also learn about carpentry, roofing, plumbing, electrical work, and more, getting their hands dirty in all it takes to build a home from the ground up.

And they take their time and do it right. In the first year, students complete the exterior of the home including the framing, siding and landscaping, and in year two, they move inside to complete the interior.

Students hard at work installing HardiePlank® Lap Siding.

“The course is a very authentic look at what it would be like to be a construction worker,” Gunsteen says. “Including getting to work on time, and working hard despite the freezing, windy or raining temperatures.”

Mr. G has been teaching this course for seven straight years, six periods a day, but the innovative course has been in existence for 30 years.

“I’m constantly coming up with ways to keep it fresh, but it’s not hard with highenergy high school students. With 15, 16-and-17-year-old kids, I do have to repeat the instructions 2 or 3 or 4 times,” Gunsteen laughs. “But we break down each step along the way so students can learn how to build a home in a patient and trusting environment.”

Palatine High School Building Construction student, Edgar Sanchez, finishes squaring the front garage wall, prepping it for sheathing.

Besides teaching the students about practical building skills such as the proper use of tools, measurement and simple electrical and plumbing work by shadowing professionals, the class also teaches students skills about employability, being on time, identifying and owning up to mistakes, integrity, respect, working with a team, and thinking more deeply about building materials, Mr. G says.

Mr. G’s passion for the science behind new building materials actually led him to James Hardie siding and trim. He was perusing the aisles of Home Depot two years ago and came across the company’s fiber-cement siding. A few simple questions about the product and he was connected to the company’s Marketing Director, who ended up donating James Hardie siding and hours of education time to the project.

“I was most impressed with how much the company cared about their product,” Gunsteen says. “A representative came out to the home site and patiently educated our high school students on the siding specifics and how to install it properly. You could tell this was a company that cares about their product and their community.”

Since the start of the project, the community involvement has only increased. This year, Palatine High School drafting students hopped on board the home-building project with an assignment to design a 4-bedroom, 2,500-square foot home, with a 2-car garage. The assignment turned into a competition, judged by local realtors and architects, culminating into one student’s design being declared the winner. The winning design is the actual plan for the building construction class this year.

“My favorite part of the project is when we invite parents to the completed house at the end of the year,” Gunsteen says. “The students beam with pride as they plug the work they did and their parents’ jaws drop to the floor.”

The two-year, intensive project evokes a sense of community and teamwork, and it provides a focus for students looking for an outlet, Mr. G says. For an added benefit, interested students can also earn college credit (at nearby Harper College) in the process.

The students can be proud they built such a beautiful home.

Even when the course is complete, students and families still drive past the completed homes year after year to show off their impressive high school project that will be on display for decades.