Students building houses helps solve problems

The Following column appeared in several APG of East Central of Minnesota newspapers in late May, 2020, including the Sun This Week (Southern Suburbs)

Students building houses helps solve problems


Anoka-Hennepin high school senior Jack Lund and his veteran teacher Tim Nestrud have valuable lessons for state legislators and other schools. They and their colleagues in a statewide program called YouthBuild can help solve some of Minnesota’s biggest problems: a lack of young people trained in the construction field and a lack of affordable housing. I hope legislators will listen as they finalize bonding and other legislation.

Lund, 18, spent about half of his school day during the December-to-February semester studying carpentry and helping construct a house. He told me: “I really liked the fact that the class is longer than the typical class. … We could get a lot more done.” Lund also appreciated earning free college credits. That will help him with a construction training program he’s planning to enter next fall at Alexandria Community and Technical College.

Nestrud told me this is the 21st house that Anoka-Hennepin district students have constructed. “It’s always been a three-bedroom rambler,” he noted. He also explained that the construction process allows students to apply what they have learned in class. “They … find out why math is very important in their everyday life! … They gain knowledge, problem solving skills and confidence and are a better informed consumer, … whether they end up working in that field or not. … The act of demonstrating what they have learned and applying it to new situations is awesome to be a part of.”

Jessica Lipa, director of A-H’s Secondary Technical Education Program, called STEP, reports that in a typical year the cost of the house would be around $60,000.

“Other costs are taxes, inspections and advertising, and I think it was around $67,000. The other costs associated with this for the buyer include – land, foundation, the moving company fees, etc.”

Nestrud explained, “For three years, lots for the homes were provided by the Anoka Community Action Program.”

He figures first-year startup carpentry costs for another district would be about $100,000.

Anoka-Hennepin isn’t the only place where high school students have been constructing homes.

For more than a decade, young people — some of them high school dropouts or “at risk” of dropping out — have been building homes, sometimes for homeless people, as part of Minnesota’s YouthBuild program.

Nancy Waisanen, a grants specialist/coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, told me that these young people have helped build several hundred affordable houses for Minnesotans over the last decade, 49 units in just the 2018-19 school year. This costs Minnesota taxpayers about a million dollars per year. Waisanen reported that state funds have helped generate millions of federal dollars. More information is here:

Marcus Pope, vice president of Youthprise, a statewide advocacy group, calls YouthBuild a “very positive model of young people being leaders, contributing to community,” as the state provides “alternative ways to connect education and work based on their interests and passion.”

More than 30 rural, suburban and urban doctors, educators, city council members, students and community members (including yours truly) have urged Minnesota legislators to apply lessons from YouthBuild and programs like Anoka-Hennepin’s to the state’s huge bonding bill. They encouraged legislators to permit high school and college construction programs, along with other groups, to apply for funds to construct affordable housing. They’ve also recommended that legislators make a priority of building permanent, affordable housing for families with children and youth – both critical needs. They documented that affordable housing helps reduce health care costs and helps more students succeed. Their statement is here:

I hope legislators will respond. Permanent affordable housing should be a priority in the bonding bill that Gov. Tim Walz has proposed. Housing for families with children and youth should be a priority. Legislators should allow school districts like Anoka-Hennepin that already have construction trades programs to apply for some of the bonding dollars.

Yes, we have immense problems. But we also have wonderful solutions, thanks to people like Tim Nestrud, Jack Lund, Jessica Lipa, Nancy Waisanen and Marcus Pope. If you agree, please contact the governor and legislators.

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school educator and PTA president directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome at