Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM News) - Missoula FFA students will help build, from start to finish, a prototype “tiny house” at the state FFA convention in Billings next week. Joined by students from other Montana communities, the MCPS students will try to complete the project within a five-day timeframe. 

The project is the first component in a new small home construction program that MCPS agriculture educator Tom Andres has been working to develop for the past several years. The program will include a curriculum that can be used by other Montana high schools to offer a hands-on learning experience in the classroom. 

Our country is screaming for tradesmen and it seems to be getting worse each year.  According to Andres, this project will give high school students meaningful exposure to nearly every trade in home construction.  

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“I have been teaching for 32 years and students are not as skillful today as they were 30 years ago,” Andres said. “Students that we're turning out today don't have the hands-on eye-hand coordination that kids had back in the older days. So they're missing out on a lot of these opportunities to learn how to build things and create stuff with their hands. We need that.” 

Andres said one of the most important components of the application is a written commitment from licensed tradesmen to oversee the work.  For example, a certified electrician will help pull the electrical permit and oversee the work. The same is true for a plumber and HVAC. The students will be doing the work, but certified experts monitor the process. 

Andres added that they are in the final stages of developing a curriculum and program for building the tiny houses in 20-foot shipping containers.  This curriculum will then be offered to Ag programs throughout the state.  

What Happens After the Tiny House is Built

“Schools will apply for the tiny house construction kit,” Andres said. “In this kit, there will be a stamped set of detailed construction plans that meet code in every county in Montana, along with all of the materials needed to build the house.  Everything is packaged nicely into a 20-foot-long steel shipping container, which becomes the shell for the tiny house.”  

Andres said the tiny house would take one semester to build. A private construction company then combines the modulars to form a four-plex that can be purchased by nonprofits or government agencies to help meet the housing needs of their communities. The estimated cost of the house is $20,000.   

Credit: MCPS
Credit: MCPS

“The money generated from the sale of the house will perpetuate the project for the school system,” Andres said. “The beauty of the program is that it is sustainable.  The school will sell one house each year and the proceeds will pay for the following house.” 

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Why This Program Will Work

Andres added that student-built houses are often attempted with limited success. 

“They are unsuccessful because it is difficult to get students to an off-campus construction site,” Andres said. “Liability, of course, is an issue away from school. A modern house is too big and too expensive to allow high school students to do much of the work. In the end, the adults complete the house while the students watch.” 

Andres believes this Tiny House project eliminates all of those obstacles because the house is built behind the school’s shop, the steel doors will be closed and locked each night for tight security, and the project is small enough so that students with close supervision will accomplish every step. 

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