WMCA-led collaboration to build a house

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Representatives of the many agencies and organizations that are supporting WMCA’s new program. In the hard hats, left to right, is Superintendent Thomas Ward, sophomore John Edwards, junior Dylan Harris and WMCA Executive Director Steven Johndro.

CHESTERVILLE – A new program operated by Western Maine Community Action will use students of the local career and technical education center to construct a safe, energy-efficient home for a local couple.

The WMCA Community Home Replacement Program will be taking on its first project on the Dutch Hill Road in Chesterville, just opposite the fire station. Frost walls are ready to go in, Program Manager William Crandall expects cement to arrive early next week and then approximately 25 students in the Foster Career and Technical Education Center’s Building Trades and Plumbing programs will get busy. The bulk of the work, after all, has to be complete before the end of the school year.

“We were so impressed with the quality of the program,” WMCA Executive Director Steven Johndro said of Foster Tech. “They’re a critical piece of this.”

In July 2015, Johndro was appointed as the new executive director of WMCA. He toured the Foster Tech facilities at the Mt. Blue Campus and came away convinced that the agency could benefit from closer collaboration with the school.

For years, according to Crandall, WMCA has struggled with how to assist homeowners living in residences that can’t qualify for funding to make them safer or more energy efficient, due to the structure’s condition or age. These are the homes, Crandall noted, that have the highest energy usages and are owned by some of the Franklin County residents with the most need of safe housing.

WMCA worked with Foster Tech and a number of businesses, foundations and governmental agencies to secure the funding to construct a 21-foot by 38-foot, single-story house on the property of two senior Chesterville residents. Funding is being supplied through the Maine Department of Economic & Community Development, USDA Rural Development, the Sandy River Foundation, John T. Gormam Foundation and the Maine Community Foundation. Mathew Brothers Foundation will be donating the energy efficient windows for the house. The couple themselves are also contributing to the project.

The bulk of the work will be completed by Foster Tech students in the Building Trades program. Two representatives, Sophomore John Edwards and Junior Dylan Harris, were at the construction site: a big, snow-covered hole in the ground. It was strange, Harris said, to see nothing and think about the house the program would be constructing.

Building a house offers the students a different experience, Adult Education Director Glenn Kapiloff noted, as compared to constructing a shed inside the warm confines of the Building Trades workshop. If necessary, snow would have to be removed throughout the process, and students would need to deal with real-world issues like the late delivery of supplies. The students said that the project would also let them work with energy efficient construction materials.

In addition to Building Trades, the Foster Tech’s new plumbing program students will be involved with the construction. That program started last year, funded through a settlement between a plumbing company and the state Attorney General’s Office. Plumbing students were also involved in the refurbishment of the old Rite Aid building into a Tire Warehouse.

Mark Chretien of Chretien’s Construction will be working on the project and undertaking some of the finishing work after the students are done. The house itself was designed by Emily Mottram of Mottram Architecture, who said that the design would conserve a lot of energy without being prohibitively expensive.

“Everybody should have access to great designs,” Mottram said.

It is a single-story residence designed to be safe, senior-friendly and extremely energy efficient. Crandall said the property would meet Maine Uniform Building and Energy Code standards and be rated as an Energy Star home.

The house currently in place on the property would be torn down after construction was complete, Crandall said. In addition to helping the Chesterville residents, the project would reduce the property’s carbon footprint and provide a boost to the town’s valuation.

Crandall hopes the project will continue into the future; DECD has already indicated that some funds may be available to build a second house next year.

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