Columbia Falls High School and Glacier National Park are teaming up as their new School-to-Park program will gain students valuable workforce experience while battling the housing shortage inside the park.
Beginning next school year, students will participate in building design using computer aided design and drafting (CADD) software, materials cost-estimating, and construction planning and then build a fully outfitted, 18-by-26-foot, two-bedroom cabin. When completed, the cabin will be moved into the park and set on its foundation and connected to the utilities in time for use by summer park employees. The cabin will replace a deteriorated residential cabin that has many code violations and is slated for removal.
Piloted in Denali National Park in Alaska in 2004, the School-to-Park program has already proved a valuable asset to the National Park Service.
“Housing has been a perennial issue at Glacier as well as in the Flathead Valley in general,” Glacier spokeswoman Lauren Alley said. “We thought about different kinds of housing solutions over the years, but this idea came from our previous deputy superintendent, Eric Smith, who brought the program with him from Alaska. We thought it would work well here, too.”
Primary funding of $269,000 will be provided by the National Park Service and will cover the costs of building materials, special tools, and contracting with a transportation company to move the finished cabin to the site. The funding will also pay for the hiring of a NPS employee with a wide set of residential construction skills who will work with the students and teachers at the school to help complete the project.
Columbia Falls students who participate in the competitive program will submit resumes and be “hired” into the class, preparing them for real-world hiring processes once they graduate. The school will look into combining other curricula into this program to prepare the students for careers in engineering, construction management, and business leadership. The school expects to select 15 students per year to work on the project.
“We are trying to incorporate those life skills and soft skills that will help these students when they are ready to enter the workforce,” Columbia Falls principal Scott Gaiser said. “It’s a dress rehearsal for the real world.”
As the program develops, the school hopes that the program will taken up by students in their junior year with seniors who worked on the project the previous year serving in more of a foreman type position.
“Those students will gain the necessary information and experience in that prerequisite class so they are able to walk on the job site as a senior and immediately get to work,” industrial arts teacher Jeff Remiker said. “All in all, we hope kids will experience the expectations a contractor would have for their employees, as well as, the skills needed to gain employment and a living wage after high school. This includes how to make a job proposal, material estimates, working safely, proper tooling to gain that wage, and a path to becoming a subcontractor, carpenter or to pursue other trades.”
The new program is one of several at Columbia Falls High School that look to help students gain valuable workforce training and knowledge before graduation.
“This is somewhat the capstone of the woods and building trades program, but we really want it to be the juniors that are involved with this, once we get the program in place,” Gaiser said. “Ideally, those students would then be placed in an internship in the second semester of their senior year.”
Students in future years will build additional cabins to alleviate seasonal staff housing shortages in various areas of the park, with one cabin slated to be built during the 2019-2020 school year with two addition cabins each year the next two school years. With proper funding, the park is hopeful the program will continue to operate indefinitely.