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Panther Construction class building hunting blinds

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SCC High School students work on their hunting blinds project during a recent class period. Pictured are (from left) Zac Bringgold, Jackson Pederson, Will Spitzmueller, Spencer Goodwin, Zachary Parrott and Justin West. Jordan Willi / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 4
St. Croix Central High School students Derek Rock (cutting wood) and Zac Holme are part of the school's building trades class, which focuses on basic framing construction and building methods. Jordan Willi / RiverTown Multimedia3 / 4
St. Croix Central High School students (from left) Nathan Davis, Will Spitzmueller, and Spencer Goodwin work on their hunting blind during a recent building trades class. Jordan Willi / RiverTown Multimedia4 / 4

In its first year, the St. Croix Central High School Panther Construction program is building hunting blinds they plan to sell to local hunters for upcoming hunting seasons.

"Last year, we came up with the idea of Panther Construction ... with the idea of getting that student-run business going. And I think it is a good fit for the construction industry, just because we see that there is such a demand for anyone in the skill trades," said technology education teacher Garret Wenzel. "Looking at the last St. Croix County Economic Profile, it shows that the growth of construction is at like 22 or 23 percent as far as employment goes. So it is a really high growth industry, especially in this area right now."

The proof of the industry's growth can be seen in the number of calls Wenzel gets looking for students who would be willing to pick up work at a local construction business.

"We didn't really have a firm idea of where we would go with this class in the beginning. But I think it is just a matter of getting the students the right skills as far as safety with the power tools and knowing the basics of construction. Right now, we are building hunting blinds, but what they are learning transfers right into framing a house," Wenzel said. "It is a good project that they are small enough where we can break a small class up into three groups and each one is their own team."

According to visual arts teacher Jordee Reimer, Panther Construction is using the school's building trades class as a launching point for the program. The class focuses on basic framing construction and building methods. The deer blind project teaches techniques such as framing, roof pitch and platforms.

"We are hoping to slowly expand it into something larger, but need a little larger facilities before we can make that happen," Reimer said.

The fall semester class is made up of 10 students, with next spring's class looking like it will have 13 students.

"Figuring out how to build things and constructing something that people will use were a few of the reasons I wanted to be in this class," said senior Spencer Goodwin. "I don't think that I will go into construction, but it teaches a good set of skills that are useful to have."

Wenzel said the school district is starting to work with WITC in order to offer a construction academy at the high school, which would allow students to complete a technical diploma in construction.

"We are looking at that for next year. It would be an awesome thing to have kids graduating with a high school and technical diploma," Wenzel said. "Is everyone going to use that right away, probably not, but it is a good thing to have to fall back on. And everyone will probably own a house some day, so you have to know how to fix things and work with tools. It is just a very important skill to build up.

"It is really exciting to see this moving forward. It will show students that we are investing in them and bringing college to them at the high school for free. I hope it adds some clout to the program, since there can be a misconception of what construction and other shop classes are and what they offer."

Hunting blinds

This fall's main project, the hunting blinds, was one Wenzel thought would give the students a good challenge, but also be something that was easy enough for them to finish on time to sell for hunting season.

"The big thing was that we wanted to start off with a small construction project just to get them going. Next semester we will do sheds, but even then I wanted to make sure we practiced things before we really started making some bigger projects. That way, we are investing a couple hundred dollars in the blinds, rather than a couple thousand dollars in a shed or house or a bigger project like that," Wenzel said.

The blinds, which will sit 8 feet in the air and measure 4 feet by 4 feet, normally cost around $1,000 if they are bought at a store, Wenzel said. But Wenzel is expecting that the students will be able to sell their blinds for around $600.

"I think this is a good project for us because it teaches us to work on a timeline because you need to have them finished on time or they won't be sold," said junior Ryan Larson. "You have to have a timeline and stick to it since no one will want a hunting blind after hunting season. It is also teaching us how to use our time well and manage our time better.

"When you are working with a budget, you need to make sure you are getting things right the first time and not wasting time or materials. So that has really reinforced the saying 'measure twice, cut once.'"

According to Goodwin, the hardest part about building the blinds has been avoiding costly mistakes that would force him and his classmates to start over on a specific portion of the blinds.

"The hardest part about the blinds is that you need to make sure you are getting everything right the first time," Goodwin said. "It is really nice knowing that what we are making will actually get used. This class is also nice because it forces you to work as a team and work well as a team."

After the students are done with the blinds, Wenzel plans for them to go back to the classroom to start learning the ins and outs of building a house, from foundation to the roof and everything in between. Once the temperature starts trending back up in the spring, Wenzel plans for the class to work on building sheds.

"Overall, it is cool to see the students take ownership of the projects and they have been working really well as a team. I think they are really setting a tone by coming in and getting to work," Wenzel said. "If they make mistakes they are starting over to make sure they are doing it right. It is good to set that tone right away."

Jordan Willi
Jordan Willi is a reporter for the New Richmond News. Previously, he worked as a sports reporter at the Worthington Daily Globe in Worthington, Minnesota. He also interned at the Hudson Star Observer for two summers and contributed to the Bison Illustrated sports magazine at North Dakota State University.
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