Smith Voke carpentry students get hands-on experience building storage facility

  • Jonathan Parizo, 16, of Easthampton, a Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School student, nails a truss to the structure the school’s carpentry department is building for its forestry department. The truss was lifted by a crane onto the storage building that will house equipment. GAZETTE STAFF/ CAROL LOLLIS

  • Emily Jennis, 16, of Northampton, Justin Flores,16,of Hadley, Damien Cox , 16 of Southampton, and Thomas LaRiviere,16, of Northampton, all Smith Vocational students, prepares a truss to be lifted by a crain onto a facility being built to house all the forestry department equipment. Mike Florio, the crain operator, volunteered his time and the crain which came from Flarc welding.

  • Max Boyd,16, of Dalton, a Smith Vocational student, nails a truss to the structure which was lifted by a crain onto a facility being built to house all the forestry department equipment. Mike Florio, the crain operator, volunteered his time and the crain. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Emily Jennis, 16,of Northampton, a Smith Vocational student, prepares a truss to be lifted by a crain onto a facility being built to house all the forestry department equipment. Mike Florio, the crain operator, volunteered his time and the crain which came from Flarc welding. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

For the Gazette
Published: 11/18/2016 8:11:15 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Several Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School students have spent this fall developing their skills from the ground up — literally.

Construction of a storage facility for the school’s forestry department began about three months ago at a school-owned site in the woods off Haydenville Road in Leeds. After students from the forestry department cleared the land, juniors and seniors from the carpentry department stepped in to build the structure.

“You really do see their maturity level go through the roof. All my kids, they’re not looking at their phones, they’re not chit-chatting, they’re engaged in this project … and that’s the beauty of hands-on projects,” said teacher Chadd Meerbergen.

The school set aside about $100,000 in its budget to pay for the project, which is expected to be completed by Dec. 1, according to Michael Cahillane, chairman of the school’s board of trustees. Students will be left only having to do finishing touches by the spring.

While most students are confined to a desk, these students are putting classroom concepts to work.

Every school day from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., about a dozen carpentry students hammer away at what will soon be a home to a plethora of forestry equipment, including a bulldozer, a backhoe, chainsaws, a crib for tools, and more.

The existence of the storage facility will make life for the forestry department significantly easier, according to school officials.

Mike Florio, head of the school’s advisory board, said the students will no longer lose time having to transport equipment back and forth from the school every day. In addition, it’ll be a secure place where students and teachers can arrive in the morning knowing that their tools will be locked inside waiting for them.

To Florio, it simply made sense to have students create the facility.

“Why should we pay a contractor to come in and do something that we could have our students come in and do?” Florio said.

The only contribution contractors made to construction was handling the initial cement work. After that, students took the lead with clearing the land, building, and upon completion, they’ll deal with electricity.

“These students are having the opportunity of a lifetime to build something like this. They read about it, they hear about it, but they get an actual opportunity to do it hands-on, where they can take their family here in the future and point to this and say, ‘I built that,’” Cahillane said

Cahillane said the project has been on the drawing board for about two years. After acquiring the necessary permits, it was time for building to begin. The project is yet another way the school has challenged students to practice and apply things they’ve learned.

Prior to the storage facility, the building class had been involved with helping construct homes in Florence with Habitat for Humanity.

This winter, Cahillane said the students will do indoor construction on the Greenfield Community College campus as they transform an existing building into a licensed practical nursing facility.

Cahillane and Florio agree that experiences like this make postgraduate life easier for students.

“They’re all actually doing the work, and there’s no substitution for that … if a student goes out to work and gets a job, they know what it’s like, it’s not a surprise to them,” Florio said.

The students also understand that their efforts will pay off down the road.

Thomas LaRiviere, 16, is a junior working on the site who sees the value of this learning experience.

“If you say that you can do something, and you can’t, you can get fired on the spot. If you actually know what you’re doing, you can get a pay raise, you can get bonuses, everything like that. You can basically be your own boss someday if you really want to,” he said during a break from building.

LaRiviere said that from putting up trusses for the roof to learning crane safety, his experience has been both fun and educational.

“I’ve learned basically everything about building … I can actually understand what’s going on, and I am not afraid to ask questions if need be,” he said.

The junior says all students have loved participating in the project. Not only have they learned about construction, but they’ve gained a better sense of their own strengths and weaknesses.

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