Pumped with zeal and strapped into a loaded carpenter’s belt, Jordan Castaneda greeted Salina Technical College classmates for some on-the-job learning.
“I’m ready to get this party going,” said the 18-year-old Salinan on Wednesday, aching for some construction work after spending weeks mostly in a classroom.
The budding builders were “chomping at the bit. They’ve been in the classroom since the start of the semester (Aug. 20),” said Kevin Watters, Salina Tech construction technology instructor.
His crew that ranges in size from eight to 11, was eager to join in the remodel of an Ashby House shelter at 158 S. Eighth.
“I love getting hands on, in the action. The days go faster. It feels like forever in the classroom,” said Castaneda, a 2020 Salina Central High School graduate, who credits his uncle, Mario Martinez, owner of a Salina construction business, for introducing him to the trade, and gifting him the passion to build.
Several departments at the technical college have joined in repurposing the 100-plus-year-old, two-story home that was moved to the Ashby House complex during the summer of 2019.
Salina-based Blue Beacon International’s hotels division, Lighthouse Properties, donated the house, moving expenses and some of the concrete costs, to Ashby House.
The old home had to go to create more room for the new downtown Salina hotel, Homewood Suites by Hilton.
Attached to a basement foundation, the house is undergoing a $400,000 transformation into a 30-bed primary shelter, said Andy Houltberg, Ashby House executive director.
The nonprofit organization that runs a shelter for women and families, and a number of other programs — Sober Living Program, Free Store open to the community, Transitional Housing, Toy Store and Career Closet — has raised about half of the money and services necessary to complete the work, Houltberg said, through grants and other donations, including in-kind contributions of labor, materials and expertise.
Larry Pankratz, Ashby House board chairman, arranged for a number of students and departments at Salina Tech to help out. He directs the Salina Tech Foundation.
“I’m a partnership person, and this project got me thinking,” Pankratz said.
Construction technology students, who often obtain practical experience by working on Habitat for Humanity housing, were plagued by sluggish progress in that endeavor, so students have briefly switched to the Ashby House project.
Watters had been looking for a staircase challenge, and the Ashby structure had such a need.
“We’re widening the stairwell (from 28 inches) to get furniture and appliances downstairs, and to put in some load-bearing walls in the basement,” he said.
Greg Rose, the electrical technology teacher at Salina Tech, led a walk-through of the house Wednesday with his 11 students. They’re down to re-wire the shelter.
“I’m hoping it’s going to be a really good, hands-on project,” said Rose, who owns and operates Rose Electric in Abilene.
“Nothing beats working in the field,” he said. “That’s where you learn. You can sit in class all day long and read a book, but until you actually get your fingers dirty, it doesn’t soak in, doesn’t stay.”
The project is another step toward Seth Miller, 18, of Salina, starting a career as an electrician.
He’s learning “how to deal with the unknown.”
This past Thursday, Miller and partner Alex Hopkins, 27, of Larned, were working to run electric lines from light fixtures through a junction box to a breaker box in a practice home on the Salina Tech campus. They will be working to bring the old structure at Ashby House into the 21st century, and learning to deal with similar challenges when they go to work in the real world.
Hopkins chose this profession to stabilize his life.
“The main reason is job security. It pays pretty good, and will support a family,” he said. “Everyone needs an electrician.”
Salina Tech also made its mark on the basement egress windows. Eric Vannoy, head of the welding department, built the steel grates over the egress openings and Brian Hitchens, head of the auto body department, delegated painting chores to his students.
“The welding department is also cutting a basement I-beam support (to make room for the staircase). They (supports) carry weight all the way to the roof,” Watters said.
“Giving them real-life experience with old houses like this is very beneficial,” Pankratz said.
Salina Tech heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) students may also assist in helping professionals equip the Ashby shelter, he said.
Having a broad range of skills and understanding from the trades is good for anyone in the game, said Warren Ediger, a Salina architect who designed the Ashby House remodel.
“Before I started in architecture school, I worked in construction for awhile,” he said. “I did a bit of everything in building, and that changes what you think about design.”
Those experiences have added a level of functionality to his chosen profession.
“The drawings may look great, but they have to translate into practicality with the builder in mind,” Ediger said.
Tasks laid out in the drawings have to be doable.
“I’m not asking them to do something I wouldn’t do,” he said.
Projects such as the Ashby House shelter will jumpstart the construction pupils when they enter the workforce after a year at Salina Tech.
“We get them started at a higher level,” Watters said.
Students will need less basic training in the real world.
“This takes the apprentice position out of the workforce. When we do get a job, we’re all prepared,” said student Dustin Young, 28, of Clay Center.
“We can get a better job,” said Stevan Schafers, 19, of Marion, who commutes to Salina for class.
“Kevin (Watters) can hook us up,” Castaneda said. “I like the way he teaches. He’s funny and he keeps you on your toes.”
Schafers’ goal is to become a contractor and form a partnership with his father, Jason Schafers, who owns and operates Tony’s Plumbing in Marion. Together, they could be qualified to build most of a home.
“With this (construction technology training), we could pretty much do all of it,” Stevan said.
The old shelter next door will become a community center, Houltberg said, “so people can drop by and meet with case managers, and access our food pantry.”
The house under construction has plans for 30 beds, seven bedrooms and four bathrooms, and will be able to handle many more clients. The old shelter has four bedrooms and one bathroom.
“This is crucial for this community to have this shelter open as soon as possible,” the Ashby leader said. “Because of COVID, we’re going to see people being evicted due to nonpayment off utilities and rent, and we we are at capacity.”
The project offers many, many opportunities to Salina Tech’s students, Houltberg said.
“It benefits the practicality of working in an older property,” he said. “(Students) see some of the old way they framed walls, and used different techniques. They also contribute to the strength of the community to be able to house homeless women and families and help them get on their feet.”
Ashby House has approximately $200,000 left to raise to complete the shelter, Houltberg said.
“If we get the funding by this Christmas, we would have (the project) done by the end of May or the beginning of June (2021).”
Twenty years from now, when he’s driving by, Young will surely point out the Ashby House shelter and boast his contribution to friends and family.
“I’ll say, ‘Hey I worked on that house,’ ” he said.
The experience is sure to resonate, Castaneda said.
“My uncle takes a lot of pride in his work,” he said. “This gives me a feeling of accomplishment.”