"The Viking House" Getting Ready for Show Time at the 2012 Street of Affordable Homes Show

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Students from Forest Grove High School build “The Viking House” for this year’s 2012 Street of Affordable Homes event in Forest Grove hosted by Stone Bridge Homes NW.

Of the six state-of-the-art homes being built for the 2012 Street of Affordable Homes at Pacific Crossing in Forest Grove, one speaks particularly well for the future of homebuilding in Oregon.

"The Viking House" — a 2,230-square-foot, one-level single-family — is being built by students from Forest Grove High School, where each year a select number of students participate in a homebuilding project designed to put the practical shop-class skills into action.

The program’s motto, Learn By Doing, is the principle that has guided "The Viking House" operation since its launch in 1975. This year's project is the 38th in the program's history.

“It’s very exciting for us to have them in our show,” said Kelly Ritz, president of Stone Bridge Homes NW, host of this year’s Street of Affordable Homes. “We’re proud of our business and proud of what we do, and excited to work with a school program that promotes the business of building.”

Chris Higginbotham, the 45-year-old teacher who has guided the program since 1995, said his students welcome the opportunity to display the results of their hard work in the spotlight of a summer home show.

"It was an unexpected surprise to build for the show,” Higginbotham said. “When someone makes the biggest investment they'll ever make, you can expect them to want a high-quality product. It was decided that our focus would be on high-quality homes and to try to offer them at an affordable price."

The first step in building a high-quality product, Higginbotham said, is assembling the best possible team of students. Each year, members of "The Viking House" construction crew are selected from a group of applicants enrolled in Forest Grove High School's advanced shop classes.

Once selected, the students are expected to be unfailingly dedicated to the project. They work three hours every other school day on the home; construction begins at the start of each school year and is completed before school lets out in June.

"We try to assemble a little dream team every year," said Higginbotham, who was a long-time construction superintendent before becoming a teacher. "They're really young adults, and I like to think they're the best this generation has to offer. We have several high academic achievers, and several who have displayed great talent for the building trades. What they all have in common is that they're very dedicated."

This year's "Viking House" will be feature three bedrooms and two baths. In step with the other homes at this year's Street of Affordable Homes, it will be built to Earth Advantage standards for energy efficiency, resource management and healthy living.

During construction, students serve as the finish carpenters and are guided in almost every phase of construction by professional volunteers who demonstrate good building practices and answer questions from the students.

"They're getting great experience working side by side with professionals, which is a big help," Higginbotham said.

Over the years, that type of experience has launched the careers of many "Viking House" alumni. Some have started construction companies. Others have gone on to become engineers. Many have specialized in other building trades.

"The Viking House" project is self-funded with proceeds from the sale of the previous project and receives special pricing and donations in materials from partnering companies. Past donations have included solar panels, granite, paint, roofing, floor joists, various plumbing and light fixtures, stone veneer, gas fireplaces and insulation.

This year’s home includes a high-efficiency furnace donated by Lennox and a water heater courtesy of NW Natural.

Forest Grove High's shop program continues to thrive, going against a national trend of cutbacks which Higginbotham said "has been painful to watch."

"Not everybody is cut out for the cubicle," he said. "We still need to build houses. We still need to fix cars. Someone who has learned these trades is a valuable member of society.

"If you had a chance to work with these kids, you'd have a much more optimistic view of the future of this country."

The Street of Affordable Homes will run July 5 through 29 at the Pacific Crossing neighborhood in Forest Grove.

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Maurice Nguyen