Program boosts building skills

By Bill Rautenstrauch, for WesCom News Service February 12, 2014 09:50 am

Dylan Houser, left, works on a chicken coop being built by students in Cove High School’s building trades class. Looking on are classmates Jessica Miller, center, and Dalton Baird. The structure was Cove High School’s entry in the 2012 Boise Cascade Challenge.
Dylan Houser, left, works on a chicken coop being built by students in Cove High School’s building trades class. Looking on are classmates Jessica Miller, center, and Dalton Baird. The structure was Cove High School’s entry in the 2012 Boise Cascade Challenge.

Boise Cascade Challenge gives local students an opportunity to construct buildings from the ground up 

Students at Union County high schools are learning building skills to last a lifetime, thanks to a program cooked up by Boise Cascade and supported by Miller’s Home Center in La Grande.

The Boise Cascade Challenge, now in its third year, gives Future Farmers of America members and building trades students the chance to construct utility buildings from the ground up. They work at the projects throughout the school year, then show them off in August at the Union County Fair.

The buildings are auctioned during fair week, with the proceeds going to FFA or shop programs at participating high schools, which this year include La Grande, Cove, North Powder and Elgin. Union High School has taken part in the past, but is sitting this year out.

Tonya Evans, assistant to Boise Cascade Inland Region Manager Tom Insko,started the program in 2012, and is pleased with its results so far.

 “Boise Cascade is committed to helping young people become tomorrow’s leader,” Evans said. “I thought this would be a good way to give back to the community, while getting our products out there.”

Evans said that in the first year, Boise Cascade was the program’s lone sponsor. The Challenge got a big boost in 2013 when Miller’s joined in.

Now, Boise Cascade provides studs and plywood, while Miller’s supplies roofing and siding materials, hardware, and more.

Evans said that once completed, the buildings can be put to a variety of uses, from tool sheds to playhouses, and more. Some have wound up as ticket booths at the fair and at the Eastern Oregon Livestock Show in Union; one built by students in Cove became a chicken coop for the school’s agricultural center.

The quality of the product and the prices brought at auction have climbed steadily. In the program’s first year, the best price was $650. Last year a building sold for $1,500, and Evans thinks the numbers have nowhere to go but up.

“The quality’s really improved. I hope we’ll get to $2,500,” she said.

Joel Hasse, a Boise Cascade information technology manager who coordinates the program with the local schools, agreed that students have improved their building techniques as the Challenge has grown. He said better plans are the key.

“There were construction issues, especially in the first year, but now we have a blueprint to follow,” he said.

Paul Anderes, La Grande High School’s agriculture, natural resources and wood shop teacher, said it has been a pleasure to watch the buildings improve in quality year after year. The Boise Cascade Challenge, he said, teaches valuable lessons to young people.

“I believe they’re getting an appreciation for local products. I don’t think there’s a one who doesn’t know that the materials come out of the local mill, and from Miller’s,” he said.

Beyond that, Anderes said his students are learning about the real effort it takes to make a wood shop project come out right.

“They’re learning problem solving skills, how to correct problems when they come up. They’ve had to take whole walls apart and completely rebuild them,” he said.

Students started their projects early this school year, and will continue to work on them until summer vacation. Again, the buildings will be auctioned during the fair in August.

Evans said Boise Cascade is considering a refinement to the program, one that may help schools realize more money for their FFA and shop programs.

“In the past we’ve sold them during the livestock auction, but that way only the people attending the livestock auction make bids. We’re thinking about a silent auction that will extend to the whole fair,” Evans said.