Livingston County high school students learn business skills by building tiny houses

Brighton senior James Linske said he never liked traditional high school lessons such as history and math. He prefers manual work.

That’s why Howell’s Building Trades Program, a class at Howell High School that recruits students to build a house from the foundation to the shingle roof, was a perfect fit for him.

He was one of 70 students in the class, which is based in Howell but accepts students from nearby schools through a partnership with the Livingston Educational Services Agency.

“I didn’t even know this class until the last minute,” Linske said. “I signed up and it saved my life. I certainly wouldn’t have graduated without this course.”

High school students and their families see their cottages completed at Parker Middle School in Marion Township on June 10, 2021.

Todd Millstaugh, a licensed builder and program instructor, said over the past few years he and his students have built a 2,000-square-foot home with three bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and a three-car garage. They also pave the driveway, install irrigation systems and finish the landscaping.

“I want people, when they see it, to be amazed that the students did it,” Millstaugh said. Millstaugh said the house his class built last year sold in five hours for $ 400,000.

But this year, Millstaugh has decided to take on a new challenge. His students built three small houses, all measuring less than 300 square feet.

Millstaugh said tiny homes present a unique challenge because every square inch has to be used.

Howell’s eldest Alex Smith said the Tiny Houses were a whole new learning experience compared to the full-size house he worked on last year. Smith took the class through his junior and senior years of high school, returning his final year as a group leader.

“Think about the space you have to work with,” Smith said. “You don’t have a lot of space to work and you have to put in a lot of things to make it a house.”

Each small house has a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom and a dining area. They also have light fixtures, walk-in showers, and strategically designed storage spaces.

At the start of the school year, Linske wasn’t sure he and his peers could successfully build three houses, so seeing them completed was gratifying.

In the fall, Linske will begin an apprenticeship as a pipefitter – something he had never considered before taking Millstaugh’s course.

Smith was also able to land a job before graduating from high school last month. He works for the Howell Public Works Department as a skilled worker.

Millstaugh said he tries to encourage his students to look for opportunities outside of getting a four-year degree.

“I hadn’t realized how much the four-year diploma was given to these kids,” Millstaugh said. “I was saying you don’t have to have one. You can go to trades school, get paid while you do your training, and make more money without being in debt.”

Contact Sara Kellner at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @ skellner21.

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