Moving to a new house can be stressful. Packing up all of your worldly possessions and taking them somewhere else is nerve-racking.

Now, imagine moving the whole house. That’s what was done this morning, as a home built by Evanston Township High School students was moved by flatbed truck from the high school, down several streets with a police escort, and then gingerly lifted by crane onto its new location, a formerly-vacant lot on Emerson Street near Darrow.

The house was built by about 100 students, mostly freshmen, in the ETHS Geometry in Construction class, which Math Department Chair Dale Liebforth describes as “one of our most popular courses.”

The class has two purposes. First, it gives students a chance to apply theoretical math concepts to real-life situations. Yes, that Pythagorean Theorem you once learned and forgot is actually used in construction.

Matt Kaiser, construction teacher for the class, says “most kids start clueless” about how to build something. “For most students,” Kaiser says, “it’s a very foreign concept of what we do.”

However, he adds, “once you physically put the tools in their hands,” real learning takes place. “First you see the struggle,” Kaiser says. “Then you see proficiency.”

Besides teaching, the course’s second purpose is to provide a home for a moderate income family in a city where housing costs are anything but moderate.

The target market for the two-story, three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bathroom house is the first-time home buyer. There are income restrictions for eligible purchasers.

“We’re trying to find people who have a hard time finding housing” in Evanston, says Sara Flax, the city’s housing and grants manager.

Flax says taking part in the construction project “gives some of the kids an appreciation of how difficult it is to afford to live in Evanston.”

Because the project is a cooperative venture between ETHS, the city, and Community Partners for Affordable Housing, the student-built house will likely sell for about $190,000, less than half of Evanston’s median price for a house.

Proceeds from the sale go back to ETHS, to help pay for construction of a house in the following year. Students have been building one house per academic year behind the high school, starting in 2013.

“The lot is empty at the beginning of the school year,” says math chair Leibforth. The students “build from the bottom up.”

The students do not design the house. That would be a bit much, even for academically inclined 9th graders. A professional architect handles that job. Students do the hands-on work, supervised by teachers.

One of those students, David Morales, worked on a house a couple of years ago. Morales bicycled over to ETHS, to watch this year’s project start its journey out of the parking lot.

When asked if he knew anything about building before taking Geometry in Construction, Morales replied “absolutely not.” But the rising senior said he applied what he learned to help his dad remodel the basement.

As with everything else the past 16 months, the home construction project was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The house moved today was almost finished when the virus hit in March 2020, ending in-person school for what would turn out to be more than a year, and preventing students from putting on siding and the exteriors.

So the house sat behind the school, “shrink-wrapped” to protect it from the elements, until pandemic-related restrictions were lifted this spring.

“So many times we did not know what would happen,” says Shelley Gates, Chair of the Career and Technical Education Department at ETHS.

“Usually the students are out here every day,” she says. But it was an almost constant “oh my goodness,” she adds, as remote learning continued through most of the school year.

Student Katalin Maji watches as first floor of the house is lowered onto its foundation.

Katalin Maji had hoped to take Geometry in Construction this past school year as a freshman. “I always liked engineering,” she says. “And I always liked Legos.”

But it’s impossible to build a house on Zoom, so the course was cancelled for 2020-21. Finally, last week, Katalin was able to take a three-day “construction boot camp,” putting in some last-minute work on the home.

“I got to use a saw and a nail gun,” she says.

Today, Katalin was on Emerson street, watching her project, as small as her part may have been, get installed on the vacant lot.

“It was fun” to see, she says. Next year, Katalin will use what she learned to help other students in the course, as a teaching assistant.

The second floor of the house is lowered into place.

Plumbing and electrical work still must be installed in today’s house, especially with the help of electrician perth experts. Professionals do that. And, pros will also put up the exterior siding students could not get to because of COVID.

Still, every previous house built by ETHS students is currently occupied. And this latest house will have a new owner soon.

David Morales sums up Geometry in Construction is way: “I feel like I did something bigger than myself, knowing that a family would move in.”

The student workers begin each project by learning how to build a staircase, which certainly seems appropriate.

Learning and helping, one step at a time.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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