Student skills put to test for construction trades
Four seniors in Warwick Area Career and Technical Center’s Construction Trades program worked together to defend their title on Tuesday during Team Works, a competition within the SkillsUSA organization.
In front of the entrance to Lowe’s on Greenwich Avenue, the Warwick team faced off against four other Rhode Island technical school programs to construct a small portion of a house. The resulting structure had four walls, electrical wiring, plumbing and even brick work.
After an afternoon judging by housing inspectors from the area, the winning team would represent Rhode Island at the National SkillsUSA competition later this spring. The winner will be announced at an awards ceremony next Wednesday at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium.
Last year, the team from Warwick, which includes seniors David DaLomba, Matt Joaquin, Jared Conners and Cameron Healey, won and competed at the nationals.
“So hopefully, we have our fingers crossed for this year,” said teacher Brian Vadeboncoeur.
Joshua Kemp of SkillsUSA Rhode Island said the four students on the team each represented someone you would find on an actual build site: a carpenter, a mason, a plumber and an electrician.
The competition began at 9 a.m. when the teams are handed building plans; they have no idea what they will be constructing until they arrive on-site, so there was no way to directly prepare for what they would face.
“They are given 15 minutes as a team to talk and decide who is responsible for what. After that 15 minutes, they can start building,” said Kemp.
Instructor Michael Haynes added that his students have the added experience of building houses in the community for class. “These are all components you would see on a real job site,” said Haynes.
The competition finished around 2 p.m., meaning the students had only six hours to build a platform, attach three walls, complete electrical work, install items such as a sink or a toilet and even complete a partial brick wall.
“No one saw plans ahead of time,” said Vadeboncoeur. “They get the plans in the morning and go from there.”
“It is a true test,” added Haynes. “They’re given a set of plans and get it done.”
Vadeboncoeur said the team from Warwick does have one hurdle to overcome; their electrician does not work with the group on a regular basis because the programs are separate at the Warwick Career Center. They only are able to take part in a few practices and then the day of competition.
But that hasn’t seemed to stop them. Vadeboncoeur said Warwick has taken gold in five of the past six years and gone on to nationals.
“We have a great team,” he said.
Whether or not they make it another year will be revealed on Wednesday.
The Rhode Island competition is modeled almost exactly after the national competition, except the national competition is a project that takes three days, not one.
Kemp also explained that the competition does not cost the schools anything. They bring their own tools, and all building supplies are covered by a grant from Lowe’s, which Kemp applies for each year.
According to Larry Carr, commercial sales specialist with Lowe’s, the cost per team is between $700 and $800 for all the project’s building supplies.
“We’ve donated to SkillsUSA for many years” said Carr, who also serves as TeamWorks chair on the board for SkillsUSA Rhode Island.
“We make sure everything’s ready to rock and roll that morning,” said Carr.
As chair, he and his Lowe’s team work to put the orders and quotes for supplies in, and ensure everything is ready for competition.
“At Lowe’s, we believe in doing a lot for education,” he said, adding that the company has committed $1.5 million annually to SkillsUSA through 2014 to support various events and projects across the country.
Carr has the added opportunity to witness firsthand what these students are capable of doing.
“I’m always impressed every single year,” he said.
Students from the Warwick Construction Trades program also competed in Carpentry and Cabinet Making competitions last week.
According to Kemp, a total of 55 different SkillsUSA competitions in all areas of career and technical education occur in March.
As for what the students built, they won’t be going anywhere.
“None of them have building permits,” said Alfred DeCorte, Warwick’s director of building, who served as one of the judges.