Loudoun home built by students goes on the market next week


Visitors look at the backyard from the family room after the house dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday in Aldie, Va. Students who learned building trades at Loudoun County's Monroe Technology Center spent the last six years honing their skills on this luxury home. (Richard A. Lipski/The Washington Post)

After six years, a housing bust, weather delays and a lot of on-the-job training, a new home built almost entirely by students is going on the market in Loudoun County.

For $699,900, a new homeowner can take the keys and move into the light-filled four-bedroom, 31 / 2-bath luxury home in Aldie. And the students will move on to their next project.

But their contribution to the home is lasting, said Andrew Campbell, a lead teacher in the building and construction program who supervised the project.

“You can come back with your kids and grandkids one day and say, ‘I had a part in that,’ ” he told the dozens of students in button-down shirts and work boots who gathered near the front door of the red-brick house for a dedication ceremony Friday.

The home-building program at C.S. Monroe Technology Center in Leesburg is training students to work in a high-demand field in fast-growing Loudoun.

The shortage of skilled workers in the building trades is a national concern, but it’s particularly visible in Loudoun, where the appetite for homes is historically voracious and average home prices are high — and beginning to climb again.

Cody Francis, president of a foundation that supports the school system’s home-building program, said there is a “huge demand” for homegrown talent in the building trades.

The people who buy these houses work in information technology or for the government, while the people who build them “live farther out or farther in,” Francis said.

Monroe is pushing capacity with 540 students, but interest has spiked in new programs, such as computer engineering and design, while it has dropped off in others, said Wagner Grier, the school’s principal.

The school canceled its electrical program within the past decade after not a single student enrolled. It started a more popular program for computer networking. But soon, electrical companies were asking Monroe to offer more training because they needed more skilled labor, Grier said.

“Everybody is thinking about computers. That’s where you gotta go,” said Grier, quoting one of his former teachers. “But I still have not seen a computer build a house.”

Giving students a chance to build a house from scratch is an attraction for many, though.

Mike Fleming, a 22-year-old student in Monroe’s heating, ventilation and air-conditioning program, helped wire the kitchen and the air-conditioning system, he said.

When he finishes the two-year training program, he plans to pursue a job in the field.

“It pays well, and it’s more technical,” he said. “I don’t want to be stuck behind a desk.”

Students in Prince George’s County have built more than three dozen homes since 1981 through a similar program. Prince William County ended its home-building program in 2002 because of the high cost of land, school officials said.

This is the ninth house Loudoun students have built. The 1.4-acre lot was donated by a developer.

Proceeds will be used to pay for the next home project in Leesburg.

The project was the largest they had ever attempted — 5,000 square feet, including an unfinished basement. (It was also the slowest. School officials said the timeline worked out, though, because they are not trying to sell the house at the bottom of the market.)

An outside contractor did some of the riskier jobs, including the foundation and the roof. “Setting trusses is not for kids,” Campbell said.

But most of the work was done by students in the building and construction program, as well as programs in masonry, welding and other trades.

Karen Cooper, a Leesburg-based real estate agent who has sold multiple student-built homes, said that buyers have been happy with the quality of construction.

Campbell said quality control comes with lots of supervision and an abiding rule: “If the students do anything wrong, they tear it down and build it again,” Campbell said.

At the dedication, two deaf students from Monroe offered a tour of the house and some of the finishing touches they provided.

They installed trim around windows and put shelves and bars in closets with tight angles. They also helped paint, and then repaint, the sprawling master bedroom.

“The teacher wanted the brush strokes in a specific way, up and down, so we learned the exact, right way,” Ibrahim Piracha, 20, said through an interpreter.

The students said they don’t know what they want to do for their careers.

But when asked how it felt to see the house he helped build, Ricardo Soto made the sign for “proud.”

Michael Alison Chandler writes about schools and families in the Washington region.
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