High school construction students get on-the-job training

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local

Austin Oar

When Austin Oar, a junior at Lebanon High School, goes to class, he tells his teacher what he wants to learn, and he gets what he wants.
Oar is in Eric Frazier’s construction class, and is one of 48 students building a duplex on 2nd Street.
“I love this class,” Oar said. “I learn stuff every single day.”
When he gets to the construction site, Frazier might tell him to go do something, but Oar responds that he’d rather do something else because he wants to do something new and learn, he said.
“At least three things a day I learn something new. He has me on complete different jobs every day,” Oar said.
Students enrolled in Frazier’s construction course through the high school are learning by experience, and will graduate with a skill that could land them a job.
“It gives them a real life skill that they can use that’s not directly related to going to college,” Frazier said.

ERIC FRAZIER nails a beam to the foundation while Noah Denver watches.
Photo by Sarah Brown

He noted that not every kid will go to college, and not all students are exceptional in the classroom. Yet, the math they use when building houses is much more practical than what they might learn in the classroom.
“They use so much geometry, so much trigonometry and algebra. Finding the volume of concrete needed for this, that’s pretty good math; length times width and height. Then you gotta break down inches and feet into yards,” Frazier said.
“Even if they can’t quite get it done in the classroom, if they figure out how to do this, they can feed themselves and a family for their lives, and then they’re not part of the system.”
And now, with the baby boomers retiring “in droves,” the construction trade is realizing there are 1,200 people retiring a day, and being replaced with only about 320 a day, he said.
Frazier believes there are only seven high schools in Oregon that have construction courses, but only four of them build houses. The Lebanon School District had supported his class in the 1990s to build houses, but then cut the funding for it, he said.
A few years ago, the Lebanon School District began funding the program again.
With that money, they built a house on Vine Street. After the house sold, the profits went back into the program to purchase the 2nd Street property. Frazier estimates that after the third or fourth sale, the program will be self-sufficient.
This year, Frazier’s class is working on its second house, which, being a duplex, is technically two houses. It comes to about 3,488 square feet. They started the school year working from the ground up: laying the foundation, adding the mud sills and support beams, setting up the frames, and lifting up the walls.

STUDENTS work together to lift the wall on one side of the 2nd Street duplex.
Photo by Sarah Brown

By the end of the school year, they should be adding the moulding and painting the walls to finish up, Frazier said. That’s when Harry West steps in.
West, a painting contractor, shuttles the kids to and from the construction site all year, and helps out where needed until his turn to put in some labor comes up, West said.
He’s the “finish” guy, Frazier said.
“I’m more of a production guy; ‘Let’s go, go, go,’” Frazier said. “He’s very good at making all my mistakes look great.”
Frazier keeps the mood light with his fun disposition. While he commands work to be done, he balances it with a good sense of humor.
“We have a lot of professional standers here,” he jokes, noting the kids who stand and watch while others hammer and cut wood.
When asked about his experience with construction, he responded, “Well, I watched a YouTube video the other day.”
After the Lebanon School District cut funding for the program in the 1990s, Frazier’s students worked on Habitat for Humanity houses in the area for the next 14 years or so, until the school re-funded the program.
The school district buys the property, Frazier’s class “makes it worth a lot more,” and then they sell it, he said.
His students have also been busy building barns and shops at the school’s Land Lab, and have done some work for the city, churches and citizens, he said.

COLD WEATHER doesn’t stop Eric Frazier’s class from getting a little work done during their hands-on construction class. Frazier instructs his students how to finish up the mudsill on the foundation.

“We like to do a project that will bring us some income – which this (house) does, do something for the school at large, and then do something for the community. That’s our goal,” Frazier said. “This year, because this is such a big project, we’re not going to be able to get to much else.”
Before students can actually build something, they have to spend a semester learning about the tools and safety protocols. Then they go on to the “block one” and “block two” classes, which teaches the build-up and the finishing work.
At the end of the year, they have to take a “massive” test for the state on all of the house building information, Frazier said.
Oar started Frazier’s course when he was a freshman.
“I’m wanting to be in construction as a job because it’s good pay and it’s going to be around for a long time,” Oar said.