Teacher’s Dream Comes To Life As GCHS Carpentry Students Build House

  • Monday, April 22, 2024
  • Beth Riner

Grundy County High School teacher Tim Tucker always dreamed his residential construction students would one day build a house. Now, an innovative collaboration between Mountain T.O.P., Communities in Schools, and South Cumberland Community Fund is making that happen. 

What’s even better is that the house, aptly named Blessing  House, will provide affordable housing in Coalmont for a 37-year-old single mom and her teenage son. 

"My whole life everything was impossible,” said the Grundy County woman, “but thanks to our good Lord, the community, and these kiddos, the impossible has become possible—owning my own home has been a lifelong dream.”

Creating affordable housing on the South Cumberland Plateau is a top priority for Julie Keel, program director of Mountain T.O.P. 

“We are a 50-year old partnership ministry—so we’re faith-based,” Ms. Keel said. “We come from the Christian worldview which means that we think that housing and human flourishing is important.” 

Ms. Keel has been with the organization for the last 17 years. 

“I’ve become committed to seeing more roofs of homes or apartments built in or around this area for folks who have a hard time accessing housing as it is now,” Ms. Keel said. 

A friend, Rich Wyckoff, past SCCF chair and a volunteer with Sleep in Heavenly Peace, which builds beds for children, called her out of the blue last May to ask if she wanted to build a house with Mr. Tucker’s residential construction classes. 

It was an immediate yes for Ms. Keel.  

“The idea was that the house would be purchased by somebody who could qualify for a low-interest, low-income loan,” she said, noting that using donated land and volunteer student labor would keep the house affordable. 

To start construction in August when the school year began, Mountain T.O.P. partnered with GCHS; Communities in Schools, led by Tracy City Councilwoman Sara Brown, a social worker at the school; the Community Fund; and the newly-formed Housing Hub. 

“We just decided that we were going to get started,” Ms. Keel said. “Tucker was ready, and we thought we could do at least one half of the house with the funding that we had. We really believed in Tucker and his students, and they have more than delivered.” 

The long-term goal is for students to build a house each year, according to Lee Limbird, SCCF board member. 

“The fall semester they build one half, and the spring semester they build the second,” Ms. Limbird said. “The halves can go on flatbed trucks to be delivered to the housing site. They’ll be put together by the students and by adult volunteers in the spring and summer. Before that, the foundation will be laid, so the halves will lay right on top of the foundation. One half is already finished; shingles are on  it. The new homeowner has been identified, and the house is going on some property her mother has given to her.” 

Mr. Tucker said the 768-square-foot house will contain two bedrooms and a bath, be finished in siding, and include a front porch. It takes about two months to build each side of the house. Mr. Tucker has his core group of student builders for two periods a day and has to factor in school closings or other events that may pull them from class. 

“My students have done a wonderful job on it,” said Mr. Tucker, a former building contractor before he began his teaching career. “I’ve had to do a lot of things to figure out how to move the house, but it’s coming together. I’m gonna get a field day for my second semester kids, and we’re going to pour the footer.” 

His students have learned to work safely at heights, shingle roofs, install plywood to hang doors, cut in stairs, and even install bathtubs. 

“The basic thing in carpentry is to start out level and make all the walls plumb and get it square,” Mr. Tucker said. “If it starts out that way, everything goes good. I push tape measure, tape measure, tape measure.” 

Tenth-grader Mason Miller of Altamont appreciates the hands-on, practical process of learning to build a house. 

“It was more difficult than I realized,” he said, “but it wasn’t harder than we could do. I feel like I am getting the full experience of what it will be like when I am on the job.” 

His classmates, Peyton McGee of Beersheba Springs, Justin Cox of Coalmont, and Jeremiah Sanders of Tracy City, have nothing but praise for their teacher. 

“He’s very easy-going,” Peyton said. “If you mess up, he’ll talk you through it. He won’t get mad.” Jeremiah, who is already on his way to becoming a skilled wood carver, is thrilled to be in Mr. Tucker’s class to learn the house building process. “When I got into this class, it was a dream come true for me.”

Ms. Limbird see the building collaboration as a win-win for everyone. “The exciting thing, I think, is the school part where kids are learning these skills in high school,” she said. “Maybe some of them will become contractors; maybe some won’t, but they will certainly be able to be more effective as homeowners or help their parents with taking care of their homes.” 

Ms. Keel has her fingers crossed that the project is repeatable. “This is an experiment,” she said, “We’ve never done anything like this before. What I understand from Mr. Tucker is that the benefit to students far exceeds what we thought in the beginning—his students learn in the classroom and  then walk out the door to where this structure they were just discussing is right there in front of them.  

“They know what they’re doing will help a family. Housing is one of those things that touches every aspect of a person’s well being, so the impact is pretty great when you think about it.”


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