BAYFIELD – To some, tiny homes are an affordable alternative to traditional homeownership, or their compact structure offers a more sustainable lifestyle. To others, they are just a fad.
But in some La Plata County schools, tiny homes have become a tool for teaching students professional skills that they can take with them after graduation.
Durango High School and Bayfield High School students have been building tiny home projects in Career and Technical Education classes since at least 2017. While the CTE programs have built other large structures in the past, the tiny homes – entirely designed and built by students – are the most complex.
“We’ve worked our way up to doing the tiny house,” said Curtis Gillespie, CTE teacher at Bayfield High School. “All the students are so excited to work on a project like this. ... Their enthusiasm, it’s infectious.”
At Durango High School, students are working on a tiny home project as part of their CTE curriculum. Bayfield High School students finished their project in September 2019, Gillespie said.
The Bayfield program started with a simpler project, handmade garden sheds. Then, they built a log cabin with a wood stove, but it didn’t include electricity or plumbing. The tiny home required students to learn new skills and be part of every step of the process, from designing it to hammering down the “For Sale” sign.
The 200-square-foot tiny home closely matched the CTE curriculum, and it offered students an opportunity to participate in the nationally recognized Home Builders Institute Pre-Apprenticeship Certificate Training.
Not only that, but the start-up materials were affordable, the build site was well-located (at the school), and the price point of $45,000 would put more money back into the program, Gillespie said.
Different classes contributed to the project over two years. Students designed it in the architectural design class, and they built it in the construction processes class.
Through the process, they learned about framing concepts, permit and code requirements, job safety, electrical and plumbing systems, and some eco-friendly materials. In the end, they build a functioning and up-to-code home with a bathroom, a full kitchen, loft, fire escape-skylight, patio and more.
“When you’re building something, you have to pay attention to the details,” said Braxton Nistler, a sophomore who helped finish the project. “You get hands-on experience and that helps a lot of people with learning.”