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James Clemens, industry pros build ‘tiny house’

A Construction Academy student at James Clemens High School installs a solar panel on the 'tiny house,' a collaborative effort among school departments and business partners. (CONTRIBUTED)
A Construction Academy student at James Clemens High School installs a solar panel on the ‘tiny house,’ a collaborative effort among school departments and business partners. (CONTRIBUTED)

MADISON – Collaboration is underway to build a ‘tiny house’ by engineering, construction and interior design students, along with industry partners, at James Clemens High School.

Four of Sherri Shamwell’s interior design students designed and will decorate the structure. Greg Ennis’ engineering students have created blueprints. About 50 of Mike Burkett’s Construction Academy students are building the house.

Ennis introduced everyone to Daniel Tait, CEO of Alabama Center for Sustainable Energy, during a meeting with James Clemens Principal Dr. Brian Clayton in July. “We all deduced an ‘educational’ tiny house would be a great collaborative project and get the maximum informational value for students, teachers and community,” Burkett said.

“Tiny houses, typically 200-400 square feet, have really sparked quite a large, pardon the pun, movement,” Tait said. “The movement is rooted in getting back to basics. What do you really need to live? What’s important? It’s rooted in spending money, time and effort on things that really do matter,” Tait said.

Interior design students are working independently but meet regularly with Tait and William Riggle, president of Constitution Consulting Group. Rod Wagner brought an RV from Madison RV to campus for a personalized tour to generate ideas for Shamwell’s students.

Change is guaranteed, students have realized. “My students were a bit shocked that we expected them to change their original design,” Shamwell said. “We explained this is typical. They’re learning things can change due to cost issues.”

Meeting deadlines, understanding budgets and solving complex problems are other lessons, Burkett said. James Clemens’ “full construction academy” covers all aspects of building science and some architectural design.

Riggle is concentrating on energy efficiency, monitoring schedules, resolving issues and representing the owner perspective.

“We’re also working with students to create a crowd-funding campaign for extra funding to complete the house,” Tait said.

“Our industry partners have agreed to fund the bulk of this project (approximately $7,500),” Clayton said. “This is a great ‘real-world’ learning opportunity for our students. The final results will be mutually exponential for everyone.”

Students will be excited to see their design ideas “put to life,” Shamwell said. Estimated completion date is May 2016.

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