Experience is the greatest teacher, and students in the Building Trades class at La Porte High School (LPHS) can attest. Before the COVID-19 pandemic caused Governor Holcomb to issue a stay at home order to the state of Indiana, the class had its hands on a variety of construction projects right in the community. Among these notable experiences was the expansion of additional office spaces within CompressAir.
Ever loyal to its home base, CompressAir welcomed the opportunity to allow LPHS students to work on building projects at the office. Warehouse Manager Maverick Crowl said the project was a timely one for both his team and the students.
“This program is beneficial to CompressAir because we enjoy helping the youth in our area, and we benefit from having them help finish up our office project,” Crowl said.
In the Building Trades class, LPHS seniors and juniors accepted by application are released from the high school to report to a construction site. Students learn carpentry, masonry, roofing, siding, plumbing, electrical, and other skills of the construction trades. Students also receive three credits per semester (six per year) from Ivy Tech Community College.
“This is probably one of the only courses designed for kids to take and find a career right after they graduate from high school,” said Kirt Lawson, who teaches the Building Trades program.
“This program is around to give students a view of what working in a professional construction setting and environment is like. They learn things such as all the math behind the structuring of the facility, learning prints, and progress all the way through a project to completion,” Crowl said of the program.
“By the end of the program, I feel students should feel comfortable about starting a job in carpentry or fabrication related careers, plus it helps to develop a positive work attitude and work ethic,” Crowl added.
Along with other hands-on projects in the community, each class is typically expected to construct a home that will be completed by the end of the school year and then sold on the open market. This year, Lawson decided to do things a little differently and focus on public projects in the community that needed building or maintenance.
“I guess God was kind of watching over, too, because otherwise we’d be stuck with a house that was half-finished right now,” Lawson chuckled, referring to the stay-at-home restrictions preventing class from meeting.
The students spent more than a month on the CompressAir project, working for about an hour every weekday to prepare the new workspaces inside the company’s warehouse. They erected the wood framing for the series of offices, allowing them to start on installing the insulation and drywall.
“That company [CompressAir] is a first class operation,” Lawson said. “Andy, Tyler, and Maverick were very supportive of the kids.”
The leading provider of compressed air services and products has needed additional offices inside its La Porte facility for the last several years, Crowl said. When the CompressAir team learned the Building Trades class was seeking a new project, they jumped at the chance to assist the aspiring carpenters in finetuning their skills.
Plus, creating a strong future workforce for the community is at the forefront of every business in La Porte County.
“I feel this program is important because it can show select students that don’t have a desire for furthering their education after high school that there are great careers and opportunities in the area,” Crowl said. “Opportunities they can set goals toward after high school and make a good living. It also brings back the idea of building a work ethic [in addition to building a skillset].”
This past year, the LPHS Building Trades class has left its stamp on many projects that have a special place in the community. For example, this past Christmas they were tasked with giving La Porte’s beloved Santa Claus House a makeover. The little house that resides by the courthouse in Downtown La Porte all holiday season was in desperate need of some TLC after years of weathering the elements wore it down. The Building Trades class spruced up its exterior in time for Santa to make his landing.
“That project was so cool, such a fun project. I’ve been doing this for 26 years now. To me, that’s kind of like a house that is a symbol of La Porte,” Lawson said. “Everyone in the town knows that house, it’s been around since I was a kid and probably before then. It was like, we’re working on a landmark here. And it was something the kids took a lot of pride in.”
Additional recent projects include remodeling a house and constructing a picnic pavilion in Luhr Park. With the CompressAir offices, this year’s students also now have the cache of saying they contributed to a thriving business in the community.
“I believe this program is extremely beneficial, and the teacher Mr. Lawson is a joy to have around our shop,” Crowl said. “And I think the students enjoy their time here as well.”
Lawson hasn’t seen his students in over a month and is trying to stay in touch through e-learning assignments. But he misses seeing them a lot.
“That’s been the hardest part about this. You know, when you’re with them so much they become part of your family. They keep you young!” he said. “They’re just such great kids. I always feel like I have a blessed life, and these kids deserve credit for everything. When you get older, you put things into perspective. I’ve sort of mellowed out with age, and I know I want kids to have it better than I did when I was their age. That’s why I got into teaching.”
With Lawson’s guidance and the tangible experiences provided by cornerstones like CompressAir, those students are sure to have a successful life ahead of them.
For more information on CompressAir, visit https://compressair.net/.