The kitchen and family room area of the HHS building trades program house on Primrose Lane are near completion, as the home is scheduled to be sold this summer.

For more than 40 years, high school juniors and seniors have been building homes as part of Houston High School’s building trades program.

Since the program began in the 1967-’68 school year, students have constructed some 30 houses that have been sold at auction. The current project is single story dwelling on Primrose Lane with 2,700 square feet of living space and a 950 square foot garage. When completed later this year, it will become the latest in a neighborhood featuring numerous building trades program homes.

At the helm of the program is T.J. Hinkle, who first became interested in the construction field during his own school years when he signed up for the HHS building trades class. After graduation, he worked in construction locally. Midway through the 2010-’11 school year, he hooked on as an assistant to long-time building trades instructor Stan Moore.

When Moore retired prior to this school year after 31 years of service, Hinkle became the replacement for the man who once had him as a student. He mentors 23 kids in two classes –– one morning and one afternoon –– guiding them through every aspect of building a home.

While Hinkle is always on hand to provide help or advice when a student needs it, his role is mainly to supervise and delegate.

“Our goal is to give the kids a basic understanding of all the steps in residential construction,” Hinkle said. “I’m not going to make them into master carpenters in two years, but they get a good basic knowledge of the whole process. And the students do better than you might think. They’re not used to this kind of work, so it takes them a while to get a feel for it. But I can see a definite improvement in most of them from the time they start out to when they graduate.”

Designed by the instructor, a building trades program house takes about two years to complete its cycle from groundbreaking to auction. Each student gets a chance to be involved in every task at some point.

“I rotate kids around and try to get all of them to do a little bit of everything,” Hinkle said.

All materials used in the process are purchased locally, unless local merchants don’t carry a needed item.

“And the program is pretty well self-funded,” Hinkle said.

Hinkle said potential buyers can rest assured that homes built by the program are of top quality.

“We cull out any bad framing lumber and things like that,” he said. “And I try to get the best stuff for finish materials, like porcelain tile and solid, three-quarter-inch oak for the hardwood flooring, and we use quality doors and windows.”

Mistakes made by students during construction are dealt with on a case-by-case basis, but are always rectified.

“It has to be done right,” Hinkle said. “I want to be able to sleep well at night after a house is sold.”

During the latter stages, students in Van Kirkwood’s landscaping class get involved putting the yard together. They utilize a computer program to come up with a design, and then present it to the building trades class. After some tweaking by both groups, a final design is decided upon.

“That makes it like a real business where you would find out what a customer wants or needs and then design your landscaping around that,” Kirkwood said.

In order to keep the process moving along, some students are hired to work through the summer months. This summer, four will be working on the current project.

Completed homes are sold by way of closed-bid auction, with some going to a lone bidder, and others spurring bidding wars between multiple parties.

Hinkle figures he’s a good example of how the existence of the HHS building trades program might affect a student’s life.

“I really didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do before I took the class,” he said. “Now I’m teaching it.”

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