Students partner with city to build houses

Published On: Feb 04 2013 06:38:56 PM CST   Updated On: Feb 04 2013 07:04:58 PM CST
LA CROSSE, Wis. -

Quality, affordable housing is a crucial part of neighborhood revitalization.

In La Crosse, dozens of new homes have been built through a city program to do just that.

The Housing Replacement Program makes an impact on our community in more ways than one. Not only does it create new houses where eyesores and empty lots used to be, it also helps train students with truly hands-on experience.

For a few hours every day, Central High School senior Matthew Barteck trades in his pencils for power tools.

"It's a lot of hands-on. It's not all written down in a book. You have to learn stuff on your own," said Barteck.

This year, in a new partnership between Central High's Construction Academy and the city, building construction students took their education outside the classroom. They worked on three new houses being built through the city's Housing Replacement Program.

"Some of the kids in our class, some of us have a background. We've done that kind of thing before. But there are some of us that didn't even know some of the tools that we were using. So, I mean, it was a really good learning experience. But it was kind of nice to get out of the school and go do something for ourselves," said Barteck.

Since 1997, the city and its local partners have built 32 houses through the Housing Replacement Program.

Thirty more are in the works.

People earning below 80 percent of the area's median income can qualify to buy them.

Larry Kirch, the director of city planning, said he's seen a ripple effect in the neighborhoods where these homes go up.

"Oftentimes, we'll take almost the worst house on the block and we'll fix it up. And it really gets the neighbors to think, 'Hey, you know, maybe I should fix up my house a little bit too.' And it just kind of builds from there," said Kirch.

Western Technical College has been a partner in this program from the beginning.

Western wood-tech teacher Scott Erdman said students aren't just helping out their communities, they're learning job skills that make them more marketable to employers.

"Local employers, they want to see this extra hands-on. That's what the technical college is based on -- a lot of hands-on training. And we would not have this scale of opportunity if it wasn't for the city of La Crosse and the partnership that we have," said Erdman.

It's a chance to build valuable skills, affordable homes and a better La Crosse.

It's not just Western Technical College's wood tech program that gets involved with the Housing Replacement Program. The architecture and horticulture students also get the chance to develop their skills by working on these houses.

On top of the work done by all these students, the city also hires private contractors to work on the houses, which creates some local jobs as well.