New STEM building at Clear Creek Amana to open in August

"These students, some of them, this is the first time they've officially swung a hammer"

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TIFFIN — Cade Gallagher wants to be an architect.

But ask him what he wants to do after graduation — or what architects usually do for training — and the Clear Creek Amana High School sophomore shrugs.

It's a hot afternoon at the construction site of the school district's new STEM center, and Cade has more work to do.

“I'll figure it out,” he said last week, voice echoing off the framed walls and rafters of the building's interior.

This project — a $300,000, 1,600-square foot building next to Clear Creek Amana Middle School — will give middle school students this fall a new place to study and problem-solve in science, technology, engineering and math.

But for students like Cade, it also provides a chance to try out construction and to gain experience that will help them better understand their career options.

Cade is one of 24 students working one to two days a week this summer to build the STEM center, said Joe Greathouse, a construction management professor at Kirkwood Community College who is overseeing the construction.

They're divided into five teams, each led by a Kirkwood construction management student. The Iowa City Homebuilders Association's vocational training council serves as the general contractor and regularly checks on the project, Greathouse said. Several area construction companies have donated money and labor.

The students — all part of the Eastern Iowa Architecture, Construction and Engineering (ACE) Mentor Program — have participated in all stages of the construction, digging the building's foundation, building walls, installing windows and attaching Tyvek house wrap to the exterior.

“These students, some of them, this is the first time they've officially swung a hammer,” Greathouse said.

The project is about 25 percent complete at this point, he added, and must be finished by the end of August.

Students also are helping create ductwork for the building's HVAC systems, and about 150 students created initial design options for the project this school year.

Cade said the hands-on activity has been beneficial to him, even though he doesn't want to work in construction long-term.

Architects and construction workers sometimes miss each other in the transition from designing to building something, he said, and working in construction will help him understand which designs work and which don't.

Beyond that, he said, “it'll help me along through life when I grow up and maybe have my own house.”

Another student, Iowa Mennonite sophomore Levi Geyer, agreed. Levi also isn't sure he wants to be a construction worker, but he likes the idea of working with his hands.

“It's just nice to know how to make cement or build a wall,” he said.

That type of practical learning can sometimes be missed in traditional classrooms, Greathouse said, especially when schools focus on preparing each student for a four-year college education after high school.

Training possible workers for construction jobs isn't the goal of the project, Greathouse said, but it doesn't hurt to expose students to that type of work.

“Our goal, overall, is to get more kids interested,” Greathouse said. “How do you do that? Well, you don't put them in front of a book, you don't put them in front of a computer. You have to get them out and do it.”

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