PIPESTONE - Minnesota West Community and Technical College students from the carpentry program, who spent the last nine months remodeling a Pipestone home at 515 Fifth Ave. S.W., hosted an open house Monday afternoon to display their work.
The carpentry program was just revamped and introduced last year, explained instructor Solomon Derby. It’s a partnership between Minnesota West, Pipestone Area Schools and the Pipestone EDA.
Derby and EDA board members selected the home because it was condemned and in serious need of repair. Last year’s class remodeled the home to the north, and the project was hugely successful.
Pipestone Building Official Doug Fortune, who leads the blighted program, explained the many benefits to the EDA’s partnership with the college and the schools.
First, he said, the program has a tremendous impact on the neighborhood. Housing values increase as the squalid houses are transformed into safe, liveable homes.
Student Rachel Kuphal said she loves the good the program does for the community.
“That just revs me up,” she said. “I love that there’s a program to promote that.
“The morale increases in the community.”
Fortune added that the housing is affordable. The house toured Monday has already been sold to a 22-year-old woman. She even picked out the paint colors and fixtures so she could get exactly what she wanted.
The homeowner plans to open an in-home daycare, fulfilling another well-established community need. Fortune said all the daycare spots have already been filled.
Without this program, he said, the young woman may have established her business elsewhere.
The most obvious program benefit is that students get a real-world opportunity to learn.
“My favorite part is seeing their improvements and their willingness to learn,” Derby said.
Learning is a huge motivation for the students wanting to take the class.
Hugo Martinez, a PSEO student, said he plans to become an electrician, and that he took the class to get some basic knowledge of how houses are built.
Derby added that there is a regional need for carpenters, and each student in the program could easily find employment.
Student Erik Dezeeuw explained that the class first spent a couple weeks in the classroom planning the project. Then, said Matt Enger, came demolition - his favorite part. The dozen students gutted the house all the way to the studs and started over.
Derby said one advantage to remodeling rather than building new is that the students have to problem-solve as they go, because they don’t know what they will find behind the plaster.
Although there’s no record of the home in the city office, Fortune guessed the original home to have been built in the 1930s.
The students were actually able to salvage some of the original structure, including the upstairs wood floors. The rest of the 3 bedroom, 1 1/2 bath home was updated with a more modern design.
The main and second floors comprise about 1,000 square feet, plus an unfinished basement the homeowner could finish later.
Jeremy Whipple, owner of Pipestone Building Materials and member of the Pipestone EDA board, explained that “it takes a lot of moving parts to get this thing together,” but the program is worth the effort.
Pipestone is pioneering this new way to fight city blight, and it has not gone unnoticed. Whipple said that when Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s staff members were in town recently, they asked about this project and intended to get it started in other places.