The next generation of construction workers and forepersons are being built along with homes through the Construction Management Academy at The Villages High School.
The academy and Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter broke ground on their first homebuilding project of the 2023-24 school year on Thursday in Bushnell.
The project is sponsored once again by Citizens First Bank, along with partners like RoMac Building Supply and RoMac Distribution.
The Construction Management Academy is run by instructors Bruce Haberle and Cody Russell.
“This is our seventh house and I’ve seen such a change in the last few years,” Haberle said. “The kids this year are fully engaged and raring to get going.”
Haberle said the home in Bushnell is a design he has worked on before with Habitat. The plans show a three bedroom, two bathroom home that will be 1,171 square feet inside with a 206-square-foot porch.
The plans for the second house have not been announced, but it will be built in Wildwood.
Russell has taught with Haberle since October 2022 and is poised for his first full year helping the academy build homes.
“It’s amazing,” Russell said. “Watching these kids come in and start out as juniors. Some of them come in not knowing how to shovel. Watching them grow, it’s just amazing to see the progress.”
The homebuilding projects are essentially a senior capstone project for Construction Management Academy students who learn the basics and certifications needed to work on the sites during their junior year.
The academy is looking to grow even more next school year, with 40 juniors currently in the academy.
The 15 senior students who will be working on the homes this year are split up into morning and afternoon classes. The seniors work alongside contractors and learn the homebuilding process through hands-on experience.
“It feels amazing,” said Landon Collins, a senior with the academy. “I’m thankful for the opportunity with the construction academy and that we’re able to provide a house for someone who needs somewhere to live — a safe place where they can call home, come to every night, and have a family.”
Collins hopes to continue into a technical career after high school, and what he learns in the academy will help decide his future.
“I’m excited to tackle every obstacle that comes and learn new trades,” Collins said.
The homes take the entire school year to complete. Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter will select a family from its application pool to receive an affordable loan to buy the house. Once a family has been announced, they also volunteer with Habitat, often helping with the build itself. This shows their commitment to the program and project.
At the groundbreaking, Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter President and Chief Executive Officer Danielle Stroud addressed the crowd and students.
“As you guys go throughout the course of the year, you’re going to be learning and hopefully growing professionally,” Stroud said. “Getting a job or going to college — doing something very productive for our community when you get out. But you also know what you have done for the family that moves into this house and the future that you have helped them to begin. So it’s a very monumental moment.”
Prior to the official ceremony, the classes already had made some progress on the home build. They soon will be putting up interior wall partitions and eventually putting roof trusses into the home.
With the seventh home under construction and an eighth on the way, VHS Principal Rob Grant was glad to offer a few words at the ceremony.
“This is kind of becoming old hat for building homes here at The Villages (High School),” Grant said. “We couldn’t do it without the support we see here in the community. And I’m hoping that our students see that and take advantage of it.”
Stroud also is thankful for the many supporters of the homebuilding projects, and said 16 homes will be completed this year through Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter.
“As many of you know, the housing market is very challenging,” Stroud said. “So the work that Habitat does is not taken lightly. But it’s also not done solo. There is absolutely no way we could do what we do and work with the families that come to us without the partnerships we have in the community.”
Three homes will be completed this year by other youth Construction Academy programs affiliated with Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter, which are at South Lake High School, Leesburg High School and Eustis High School. The construction academy at Wildwood Middle High School also will be working on homebuilding projects this year.
Citizens First Bank is beginning its fifth year sponsoring homebuilding projects with the Construction Management Academy, according to Brad Weber, Citizens First Bank executive vice president.
“We all know there are three pillars for a strong community,” Weber said. “The first pillar is the partnerships — everybody who is here. RoMac, the bank, the school. The second pillar is getting families into safe, clean housing. And that’s what Habitat does for us, it provides that opportunity for deserving, hard-working families. Then we have the honor to work with a great group of students.”
Working with students means a lot to Weber.
“A community that is willing to invest in their students and to build careers is why we’re here,” Weber said. “We are so proud to be a part of this with each and every one of you. The things you’re going to learn in this are going to last you your entire lifetime.”
U.S. Congressman Daniel Webster also was in attendance to congratulate the partnership and the students.
“I’m just out here to cheer you on,” Webster said to the crowd. “This team over here, it’s a great partnership with Habitat and all that goes on there. We’re not just excited about them, but also the two houses that are being built and constructed.”
The students are ready to get to work on the project.
“It feels really good that I’m able to help with this family and be a part of the homebuilding and volunteer for it. It’s just amazing,” said Lance Hutt, a senior with the academy.
At the end of the ceremony, RoMac Distribution employees gifted each student with a tool belt equipped with tools.
“We can’t thank the sponsors enough,” Russell said. “It’s just amazing to see everybody out here for these kids. It’s an amazing opportunity for them and for us to help them learn and grow as people.”
Staff writer Garrett Shiflet can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5367, or email@example.com.