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Forget the birdhouses; P.E.I. high school carpentry students are building homes for people

The carpentry students at Three Oaks Senior High School in Summerside are building a tiny home in class this year. At 16 by 20 feet, it's meant to be lived in eventually.   (Sheehan Desjardins/CBC News - image credit)
The carpentry students at Three Oaks Senior High School in Summerside are building a tiny home in class this year. At 16 by 20 feet, it's meant to be lived in eventually. (Sheehan Desjardins/CBC News - image credit)

When Zack Lapointe signed up for carpentry class, he assumed he would be working on smaller projects — he is in high school, after all.

But the project list was different this year.

"Building a full-scale house — I mean, that was a surprise," he said. "But a welcome one and it's pretty fun."

The carpentry program at Three Oaks Senior High in Summerside is building a tiny home. Plans call for it to be 16 by 20 feet, modern-looking, with a bathroom and solar panels.

"Most of them are really buying into this and are really enjoying this experience," said Robert Corkum, the carpentry instructor at the school.

"The students basically do everything here."

Given that Zack Lapointe is taking the introductory carpentry course at Three Oaks, 'I can only imagine what the other courses would have in store,' he says. (Sheehan Desjardins/CBC News)

'Amazing experience'

The materials arrived back in November. Then the students got to work, nail by nail and board by board.

"I had no initial idea on how to do it, but Corkum came through and taught me," said Grade 12 student Brayden Doucette.

"I was expecting to build, like, little shelves and stuff and not expecting to build these big buildings. But to be honest, it's been an amazing experience."

Brayden Doucette says carpentry instructor Robert Corkum is the 'best teacher I've ever had' and has inspired him to want to continue in the trade. (Sheehan Desjardins/CBC News)

So far, the students have nearly completed the base of the house. On Thursday afternoon, they were back at it — measuring, levelling and hammering pieces of the home together.

"We just did [the] subfloor not too long ago… and then we started doing the ends for the insulation board," said Devin Cormier, who is in Grade 11.

"It's quite interesting. I haven't really been a part of something this big before, so it's neat."

Inspiring interest in careers 

Cormier was interested in culinary career before joining this class, but now his thoughts have turned to a future in carpentry.

"I can't sit at a desk for very long, so anything to get me outside and doing work is a bonus," he said.

Devin Cormier says he too wants to pursue a career in carpentry after high school. (Sheehan Desjardins/CBC News)

Grade 12 student Mallory Rochford is also planning to stick with carpentry once she graduates, with some home-building experience under her belt to bring to the table.

"It's way more complex than what we're usually used to," she said.

'Everybody's pretty driven and sometimes we have some little mishaps, but we're all learning so it's pretty awesome,' says student Mallory Rochford. (Sheehan Desjardins/CBC News)

Because the project is based outside the school, weather does play a part in when the students can work on it. But their teacher is hoping they'll have the tiny home as close to finished as possible by the end of the school year.

"I sometimes joke with them and I tell them [that] while their friends are in English class or social studies class, we're here building like the real world," said Corkum.

Helping housing crisis

Other schools across the Island are also building tiny homes this year. There is still no concrete plan for how they'll be used, according to Housing Minister Rob Lantz. But the latest option involves creating a tiny home community that could help people in need of affordable housing.

"They're producing a product that we badly need at this time and we're training our future workforce," Lantz said.

Corkum agrees. Yet he thinks there is something else at play too.

"The curriculum is almost secondary to helping them along to show them what compassion is, how to be selfless, to be giving and kind and generous," he said.

"It's killing two birds with one stone."