The Sioux City Schools Career Academy construction trades facility completed this summer. The 12,000-square-foot addition to the Harry Hopkins Center along Business Highway 75. The building is intended to provide a controlled environment for students to build two houses simultaneously.

SIOUX CITY — Sioux City high school students will learn construction trades in a new facility that's opening just in time for the new academic year.

Earlier this summer, the school district's Career Academy finished construction on a 12,000-square-foot addition to the Harry Hopkins Center, located along Business Highway 75.

The addition is intended to provide a controlled environment for students to build two houses simultaneously. It is a fairly simple building with one large bay for a classroom and workspace. 

"I think this is the start of something that could be the future of education in our country," Career Academy Principal Eric Kilburn said. "It used to be 'we're going to college,' but the job market now is telling us, we can pay kids more than they would make after a four-year degree right out of high school."

Over two years, students will build a 1,300 to 1,500-square-foot house and learn introductory construction, HVAC, electrical and plumbing trades.

The program has room for 40 students; 20 juniors and 20 seniors. Kilburn said the district has full enrollment for the upcoming year.

The district already has industrial arts technology courses throughout the three high schools and intermediate construction courses at West High School, Kilburn said. In the last few years, they have sent students to attend WIT courses in HVAC, plumbing, drywalling and more.

This new facility will allow students to complete those courses at a district facility, in a way that provides a physical representation of their progress.

The program is set up so students will start their junior year completing the outside of a house and during their senior year, they will tackle the interior.

In June 2022, the school board accepted a $3.8 million bid from H&R Construction of South Sioux City for the project. The total cost was $4.15 million, including architectural and engineering fees.

The official planning for this project started more than three years ago.

"There's a desperate need for workforce in almost every single job area and people like that come to us," Kilburn said.

The Sioux City Community School District graduates roughly 1,000 students a year, Jim Vanderloo, director of secondary education said previously. The district’s goal is to prepare those students to have a plan or goal in mind for the future.

The district has programs for students who want to go into specific areas such as education, medicine, and computer technology, but this was a missing area.

“We needed to address this need,” Vanderloo said.

District administration visited a variety of schools with similar programs, including Sioux Falls, Harrisburg, South Dakota, and Cherry Creek, Colorado, said Mackenzie Hiserote, the Sioux City district's Career and Technical Program coordinator. The district modeled Sioux City's program after those as well as taking input from the business community and Western Iowa Tech Community College.

Brothers Rick and Gary Niles will teach the program, with the help of an aid and community business partners.

Rick retired in 2022 as a federal probation officer and has also been teaching in the police science program at WIT, and Gary was a chief juvenile court officer. They have built more than 200 houses together, including their own homes.

With the help of community businesses and aid, the pair will help the students learn the ins and outs of the construction field, as well as soft skills that are attractive to employers.

At the end of the two-year program, the students will have received four different certificates, OSHA certification, and a construction management diploma.

Some of the courses in the first year include an introduction to construction, footings and foundation, framing techniques, drywalling, insulation, roofing and exterior finishing.

"By the end of that first year, that house should be enclosed and they should be working on the exterior finish," Rick said.

At the end of the year, students will receive a carpentry certificate and a wall framing and roofing certificate.

In the second year, courses include advanced drywalling, interior doors, cabinets and millwork, wall coverings, floor coverings, plumbing, footings, and air conditioning.

At the end of the second year, students will have received a drywall certificate, an interior finishing certificate, and a construction diploma.

"Out of high school, they'll be ready to enter into the workforce," Kilburn said.

These aren’t one-hour, classroom courses. The students will spend half their school day out at the trades building, receiving both hands-on and classroom instruction.

The program is not just for students interested in entering the trade field after high school. Rick said everyone lives in a house and the program will teach students the skills needed to remodel their own home or make various repairs.

Rick hopes in the future the program can be expanded to allow kids to design the home, go through the bid process, and do the accounting for the project.

"All of that can be implemented into this," he said.

What happens to the houses when they’re done? Kilburn said the house will be sold and that money will go directly back into the program.

Kilburn said this also provides an opportunity for other pathways in the career academy to gain experiences, such as working with a real estate agent to sell the house.

Unique to this year, the students will be building a house for Habitat for Humanity in one year. The district-owned house the students will work on is more than 1,500 square feet, to be completed over two years.

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