Expectations placed on students, lack of compensation to the district spur most of the conversation

    The Crookston School Board Friday voted to table a resolution that would have approved a contract between the school district and Crookston Housing & Economic Development Authority (CHEDA) that has the high school's Construction Trades class building a new home on Barrette Street.

    Everyone around the conference room table at Crookston High School Friday agreed that the Construction Trades program, returning this year after a one-year hiatus, offers tremendous educational opportunities and construction experience to young people, and no one wants it to go away.

    But in tabling the resolution, board members asked Superintendent Chris Bates to revisit some of the contractual bullet-points with CHEDA Executive Director Craig Hoiseth, specifically relating to a lack of compensation being paid to the school district as part of the program – a reimbursement for tool costs was specifically mentioned – as well as the construction timeline and an expectation and/or hope that the students, their teacher and the partner contractor working with them finish the house entirely by the end of the school year.

    Bates was open to talking to Hoiseth.

    "Labor is the biggest expense and we're providing that to them, which is great for them because that has to be a massive savings," Bates said. "And we're also making quite an investment by providing an instructor."

    CHEDA covers the cost of the building materials.

    Highland School Principal Chris Trostad, who taught Construction Trades for several years before becoming Highland principal, told board members that expecting the students to finish the house by end of the 2015-16 school year next spring is unrealistic.

    "To think that these high school kids are going to finish the basement, the upper level and the garage is insane," Trostad said.

    Even back in the years when the CT students and their teacher built a smaller rambler on school property, which was then sold and moved to a lot, Trostad said sometimes the students wouldn't entirely finish the cabinetry and final trim work. Since the partnership with CHEDA was born and homes are built on-site, Trostad said the floor plans have become larger and more elaborate.

    In addition, he said, the concrete slab for this year's home on Barrette Street has yet to be poured, even though prior assurances indicated it would be poured a week ago. New CT teacher Doug Lee and his class of nine students during their three-hour class period have built walls and they're still waiting to be hauled to the site, Trostad explained, because the slab's not ready.
    
A financial 'carrot'

    Bates said the one-year agreement currently on the table contains no compensation for the school district, but that the district could potentially be compensated if the house is finished by the end of the school year.

    Reached by the Times after Friday's school board meeting, Hoiseth confirmed that, saying the CHEDA budget includes money to pay for carpentry work needed to finish the house once the school year ends. If CHEDA doesn't need to spend that money because Lee, his students and the partner contractor are able to finish the house, Hoiseth said the CHEDA's carpentry reserve would be given to the school district.

    "It's a little carrot, if you will" he said. "We have to have that carpentry coverage in our budget to complete the house, but if the school is able to prove it can bring the house to completion we'd move that money to them."

    Hoiseth said he understands that the district spends money on things like tools to build the house. "But they spend money to teach kids history, too," he added.

    Hoiseth said he agrees with Trostad's point that the main focus and goal of the Construction Trades program is to educate young people, given them important construction experience, and expose them to potential career opportunities. "But I can't create compensation to the school district if the kids don't finish the house," Hoiseth added.

    Trostad said there are even some professional contractors who shy away from doing final finishing work because it's critically important that it look as perfect as possible. "I don't think you want kids doing that finishing work; that's something professional contractors train for," he said. "This is a great program because it exposes kids to every career that goes into building a house, not because they completely finish it. I think we need to be fair to these kids as far as what we're expecting from them. It's an educational opportunity. They're not contractors committed to finishing a house."

    Board member Tim Dufault said he'd like to see any future contracts with CHEDA regarding the CT house include language that the concrete slab needs to be poured and cured by the first day of school, otherwise CHEDA would face some sort of penalty.

    "I sure like the program and the goals behind it," board chair Frank Fee added. "It just seems like there should be some compensation for the district."