Ellis Tech Carpentry students were putting the finishing touches on a handicapped ramp at Northeast Placement Services, on Oct. 2.
It was a thing of beauty, leading from a deck outside one building to the entryway of the new Community Education Center. Built out of composite decking and pressure treated joists, sturdy 2 by 12's, handrails, and balusters, the ramp had three wide landings for turning wheelchairs.
The forecast called for rain, but that didn't stop the work. Two students cut lumber on a table saw. Two others cut a piece of deck railing to fill a gap. Department Head Jim Gallow moved among them, answering questions. Around the ramp were the tools of the trade, drills, hand saws and saw horses, premium deck screws, and tape measures.
Earlier, two students ran into trouble calculating measurements for a joist they needed to cut. Gallow walked them through the steps.
"There's a lot of planning and preparation for a project like this," he said.
NEPS Executive Director Timothy Kettle contacted Ellis Tech more than two years ago to see if students could build the ramp. The nonprofit has to stretch every dollar, so having ET students build the ramp saved considerable expense. Because the project fit into the curriculum students were studying, it was approved.
In this case, students learned about framing techniques, decking, safety procedures, and power tools. They learned ACA code, as well as building codes for railing and spindle spacing. They learned about frost depth when they sank posts and how to change plans on the fly.
Woodstock building officials had to approve the plans before they even began the project. Architectural Drafting students at ET drew up those plans. Students then had to estimate the labor and material costs to complete the project.
Students started to work on the project a year ago in April. ET has a rotating schedule of two weeks of academic work followed by two weeks of shop work. By the time students arrive on the work site, they had 3.5 hours to work at a time.
"They were able to keep the cost factor low, but it does take patience," Kettle said.
The students weren't able to stay on site continuously because of the academic schedule. During the summer, work stopped altogether.
Senior Gabe Martel didn't know he wanted to be a carpenter when he first arrived at ET. He found the hands-on activity suited him.
"I knew I wanted a trade," he said. "From day one, I thought carpentry was amazing."
One thing he learned is that no project goes according to plan. The students had to make adjustments as they built. They had to work with Kettle and follow code. They had to adapt. And they had to work with the customer and learn to get along with their crew mates.
"There were a few rough patches," said Tristan Madden. "You have to learn to work with people."
At the end of a job, there are just a few items to finish. Everyone else gets assigned clean up details.
Timothy Carpentier knew he wanted to be a carpenter since the sixth grade. He'd spent time working on projects with his father.
"I'd go to Home Depot when they taught things," he said. "It was fun. Now, this is preparing me for the workforce."
"It's rewarding to see what the students produce," Gallow said.
The next project will be at the Brooklyn Fairgrounds, where students will rebuild a portion of the main stage. They'll work through the winter months, unless it's brutally cold.
"Like I tell them, you have to eat in the winter, too," he said.