Homework homework: Eastern Oregon high school students sell eighth Street of Dreams style home

Curt Berger retired from coaching tennis and wrestling a decade ago, but he has never given up his passion for teaching high school students teamwork and goal setting. He just made the transition from playing sports to building a house.

On Tuesday, June 28, Berger will stand proud with his students as people walk through a two-story apartment building designed, built, decorated and decorated by teenagers.

This is the eighth customs house down Southwest Angus Court in Hermiston completed by members of the Columbia Basin Student Homebuilders Program.

The group’s logo, drawn by a student, features a house with an end cap for the roof. The students named the 3.25-acre development Fieldstone Crossing, which has 22 apartment buildings on two streets.

According to Berger, many high schools want to train future handymen and educate students about the money-saving benefits of home improvement and repairs. Land to build and the funds to start a housing program are the typical obstacles, he says.

In Oregon, Forest Grove High School’s annual Viking House project began in 1975. Sherwood High School had a housing project in 1981, but budget cuts halted the program for 30 years before it was revived. The first of the new Bowmen Houses was sold in 2013.

The Columbia Basin Student Homebuilders Program, open to high school students from Hermiston, Umatilla and Stanfield, was established in 2013 with a $372,674 career and technical education grant from the Oregon Department of Education.

The money was used to buy equipment and materials to build the first house. Proceeds from the sale of each new home finance the next project.

Coach Berger reminds his student crew that the house they are building will stay in the community for a long time.

“It’s not housework that you throw away,” says Berger. “We’re under pressure. Winning means finishing the house on time.”

According to him, the team works in dust, dirt, cold and heat. Despite the challenges, they show up on time, learn how to do the job, and do what they promise.

Caitlin Anderholm, 18, joined the program as a freshman. For four years she completed the construction course for practical building.

The loud and heavy circular saw no longer comes to mind. And when she moves into her first apartment this fall to attend Green River College, Washington, to study earth science, she’s confident she can make repairs.

She says Coach Berger’s encouraging teaching style is “Live and learn. You will make mistakes, but he will always be there to say, ‘Don’t do it again.’ It’s a good environment.”

Hundreds of high school students participate in each build, Berger says. During the school year, students enrolled in computer-aided design, construction, and landscaping classes visit the site.

Under the guidance of lecturers, architects and engineers, the students design the floor plan to suit the property. Then about a dozen seniors spend two hours each school day doing everything from digging the foundation to plugging air leaks after final inspection by the Energy Trust of Oregon.

The program is led by artisans and suppliers who are members of the Northeast Oregon Homebuilder’s Association.

Advertising students help real estate agent Bennett Christianson of Christianson Realty Group market the property for sale.

None of the original owners of the previous seven homes have moved out, and this year’s home sold for $499,000 in January with flagstone still visible on the walls.

HERE IS OREGON: HereisOregon.com | Instagram | Youtube | Facebook | Twitter | tick tock

Demand for housing is high in Oregon, and “our reputation is good,” says Berger, 60, who has served as an educator in the Hermiston School District for 31 years. Before his appointment as student building supervisor, Berger taught vocational classes. He later earned a contractor license in Oregon.

Professionals are hired to install trusses, electricity and plumbing. Upon completion, students are paid to help finish the property before the open house.

To help out during the pandemic, Gideon Fritz, who graduated from Hermiston High in 2019, worked around the house in the afternoons after completing his online coursework to earn his degree at Oregon State University. He now works as Berger’s assistant.

Pandemic issues in the supply chain haven’t delayed the project, Berger says, but scheduling already-overworked craftsmen has created gaps. Instead of taking downtime, the students built sheds.

“I told my students, ‘COVID is not going to shut us down,'” he says. “It’s like winning the state title, focusing on the goal and working hard. The past does not guarantee success.”

Berger says attendees at the first open house were surprised by the quality of construction.

“They thought it was a side-built hut with crooked doors,” he says. “Now people know these are the nicest homes in town,” with high-end features like a stone entryway, lighted crown molding, and an outdoor living space with low-maintenance landscaping.

“These are Street of Dreams-level homes for under $500,000,” he says.

The new two-story home has 2,330 square feet of living space under a four-pitched roof. The temperature of the bonus room on the top floor is maintained by an energy-efficient electrical mini-split system.

On the main level, the living room has a stone fireplace wall that reaches 22 feet to the ceiling. The master suite features a vaulted ceiling, walk-in closet and spa-like bathroom with bath, shower and walls clad in cultured marble.

There are two further bedrooms, another bathroom and a guest toilet. “A barn door hides the laundry room and the wood is real Asterle,” says Berger. “You are just beautiful, I want to hug every door.”

Energy-efficient features built above Code standards include improved insulation, heating, cooling and ventilation systems, says Berger. The kitchen has a five burner gas range, quartz countertops and a center island.

There is a handy central vacuum system, SimpliSafe security system and speakers throughout the house.

A sliding glass door opens to the BBQ area overlooking the lawn, raised beds and space for a hot tub in the fenced backyard.

The three car garage has a 10 foot wide bay door to park an RV or boat. The house is ready for a solar system and a charging station for electric cars.

The open house will be held on June 28th from 1pm to 6pm at 852 SW Angus Court, Hermiston.

— Janet Eastman | 503-294-4072

jeastman@oregonian.com | @janeteastman

Leave a Comment