OHS grad helps build house as part of construction class

Jerome Roberson, a 2019 Oxford High School graduate, poses in front of the 1,368-square-foot house he helped build as part of the Construction Technology class at Oakland Schools Technical Campus-Northeast. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio.

Accomplishments in high school usually take the form of academic honors, varsity letters, trophies and memorable stage performances.

But when Jerome Roberson looks back at his high school years, he’ll be able to say he did something truly unique for a teenager – he helped build a house.

Roberson, a 2019 Oxford High School graduate and Pontiac resident, was one of 19 second-year Construction Technology students at Oakland Schools Technical Campus (OSTC)-Northeast who constructed a single-story, 1,368-square-foot home that will be moved to Stirling St. in Pontiac and made available for purchase to an individual or family with a low-to-moderate income.

“It feels pretty good to actually see it done because we’ve been working on it for a long time, putting a lot of hours in,” said Roberson,

He added that it also feels good to give back to his community because “we need it.”

A ribbon-cutting ceremony for the house – the asking price for which is $122,500 – was held at the northeast campus on June 6. It was built through a partnership between Oakland Livingston Human Service Agency’s Venture, Inc., Oakland Schools, the Oakland County Treasurer’s Office, Onsite Solutions, Community Housing Network and Oakland County Community and Home Improvement.

“This is the first time in our history that our students and faculty have built a home on a campus,” said Oakland Schools Superintendent Dr. Wanda Cook-Robinson.

Construction Technology students from 10 high schools, including Oxford and Lake Orion, worked 7,500 hours on the house and, according to Cook-Robinson, the finished product is definitely up to code.

“The home had six state inspections and passed all six on the very first round,” she said.

“I have a lot of pride in the work that we do out here,” said Aaron Swett, instructor for the second-year Construction Technology class. “I try to focus on quality craftsmanship.”

The house has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and an open floor plan for the kitchen, dining room and living room, plus wide hallways and doorways, so it’s handicap-accessible, according to Swett.

“I saw the house on my way in and it is absolutely gorgeous,” said Pontiac City Council President Kermit Williams in his remarks during the ceremony.

Williams told the students, “We’re so proud of you guys and we’re expecting great things. We need you guys to help rebuild the whole city.”

Students started building the house on Nov. 7 when the first lumber delivery arrived.

“By Christmas break, we had the house framed and we had most of the roof shingled. We really worked fast on it,” Swett said.

Throughout the project, the morning and afternoon second-year Construction Technology classes worked on it a combined four hours per day Monday through Friday.

“Even when it was freezing cold outside, we were still out here working on it,” Roberson said. “It was rough, but we got through it . . . Everybody was pretty serious about getting the house done.”

“All the first-year (Construction Technology students) did, at some point, work down here, too,” Swett noted.

Students did the framing, roofing, window installation, dry wall and siding. They learned to operate heavy equipment and worked with a crane operator to install all of the roof trusses. Students also worked with professional tradespeople on the home’s electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems.

According to Swett, Roberson was “instrumental” in the home’s construction.

“There’s not one part of this house he didn’t touch,” the instructor said. “He was 100 percent involved with this project the whole way.”

Swett said Roberson had “great attendance” and his work ethic was second to none as demonstrated by his willingness to devote extra hours to the project.

“There were several days when Jerome didn’t have school (in Oxford) and he was down here working with us,” he said.

“I wanted to help as much as I could,” Roberson said.

Cook-Robinson recited some facts about the project.

“Over 50,000 nails and screws went into the construction of this home . . . If placed end-to-end, the 2x4s used to build this house would stretch over a mile . . . The house weighs approximately 164,000 pounds. Just the dry wall alone weighed over 4 tons,” she said.

But to Cook-Robinson, “the most important number of all” was “zero” because that’s how many injuries there were during construction.

Building this house is one example of how OSTC is preparing students for future careers by going “beyond the walls of school” and providing them with “a real-world context,” according to Cook-Robinson.

“We need them working in the real world on real jobs so that they have those experiences when they walk away from us,” she said.

Swett said providing these “authentic, real-life” experiences helps students make “an educated decision” when it comes to answering the big question, “Is this what I want to do for a living?”

Roberson plans to apply the knowledge and skills he learned at OSTC as he goes on to study interior design. He plans to attend Oakland Community College for two years, then transfer to either Eastern Michigan University or Texas Southern University.

Stephanie Beckhorn, acting director of the state’s Department of Talent and Economic Development, was on hand for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. During her remarks to the crowd, she stressed the importance of programs like the ones at OSTC.

Beckhorn said whenever “we go around the state and talk to employers . . . we continue to hear the same thing,” regardless of the community, the industry or the size of the company.

“The number one concern or challenge that they face is the ability to have a talented workforce,” she said. “They have job vacancies that are currently unfilled and those total about 545,000 . . . between now and 2026.”

Because of this, Beckhorn told OSTC students, “You have employers that will be vying for your skill set.”

Beckhorn noted “these aren’t just any jobs.”

“These are high-wage, highly-rewarding careers in manufacturing, construction, (information technology), health care (and) automation . . . The average median wage for a career in the professional trades is 45 percent higher than in other occupations – almost $54,000. That is incredible,” she said.

Immediately after the ceremonial ribbon for the new house was cut, Jerome Roberson helped guide the removal of the fence around it so dignitaries and others could tour the inside. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio.


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