Students in three St. Johnsbury Academy Career and Technical Education (CTE) classes are combining their newly-found skills to convert the former home of one of the school's most beloved teachers into an energy-efficient office building.

Located on Fairbanks Drive, immediately west of the Academy's Sheepcote girls dormitory, the two-story white building was the family home of the late Graham S. Newell, who died in June 2008 after teaching Latin at the Academy for several decades. Newell conducted classes in the home's living room in the final few years of his life and died while preparing for the following school year.

By the end of this school year, thanks to the efforts of students enrolled in the Academy's Built Environment, Design and Drafting, and Industrial Electricity classes, the building will be the new home of the school's Alumni & Development and Marketing & Communications offices, now located in Colby Hall and Fairbanks Cottage respectively.

Preparatory work, including interior demolition, began during the summer and full-scale renovation work is expected to begin by the end of this month, Academy electricity teacher Michael Bugbee said.

"Right now we're in the design and planning stage," he explained. In addition to a new floor plan, which features a conference area in the former living room and six offices on the upper floor, the renovations include "changing the way we get power to the building by going underground and trying to eliminate some power poles," Bugbee added.

All three classes involved in the project "want to make this building as energy-efficient as possible," he stressed, noting that concern has extended to choices of construction materials, lighting packages, and heating.

"The building will heated with a heat exchanger with no fossil fuel used at all," Bugbee continued, calling that choice "an all-Green first step" in the Academy's previously announced plan to convert to a campus-wide biomass heating system.

Led by instructor Roo Mold, students in the Built Environment class, formerly called Construction Trades, are responsible for building new interior partitions, installing sheet rock and constructing a new deck on the south side of the building.

Bugbee's students are researching, designing and installing the building's electrical and data systems.

Design & Drafting students, taught by Scott Legendre and working with the project's architect, are assisting with design changes to the building's interior, preparing material estimates for a porch addition, and creating a 3-D computer model of the building.

All three teachers are "committed to making this project as real life as we can, and that includes strict adherence to deadlines," Bugbee stressed. "We know that (Academy Director of Development) Tammi Cady needs to be in there May 1" and plans to showcase the site during the school's annual Reunion Weekend activities.

Efforts to make the project as authentic as possible also feature including student representatives in meetings with officials responsible for enforcing building code and safety regulations.

Student participation in the renovation is part of the Academy's recurring "event-driven curriculum," first implemented at the school more than 20 years ago as a way to merge student skills from several academic and trades-related disciplines in pursuit of a common goal through a large project.

The approach was first used to design and build an "Eclectic House" which incorporated a wide range of non-traditional construction materials and energy conservation features.

A few years later, an Academy team representing a mixture of Science and Technical Education students competed against college entrants in the American Tour de Sol solar powered vehicle race, finishing near the top of the standings.

More recently, students have used the approach to construct and renovate several municipal and non-profit organization buildings, including the Caledonia-Essex (CALEX) ambulance service headquarters, Northeast Kingdom Community Action office space, and Catamount Film & Arts Center, all in St. Johnsbury; Barnet fire station, Danville Town Hall, and the Academy's newly-opened Green Dormitory.

The multi-class approach to the Newell home project also incorporates the Academy Career & Technical Education Department's new "Cluster" approach to curriculum organization and development, which groups courses in related disciplines and skills.

Classes taking part in the renovation project make up the Architecture and Construction Cluster.

Other groupings include Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources; Art and Communication; Business; Hospitality and Tourism; Human Services, Information Technology, Manufacturing; and Transportation, Distribution and Logistics.

The entire cost of the renovation, including furnishing the building, is funded through a bequest from the estate of Esther (Beck) Strasko, a member of the Academy's Class of 1935 who died in 2009.

"I am a better person for having known Esther," Cady said. "Not only did she educate me about her days in St. Johnsbury and at the Academy, but she gave me insight to so much more. She would be pleased to know that her money is providing the opportunity for our own Academy students to complete what we expect to be a wonderful addition to our campus."

Additional information about Academy Career and Technical Education courses and programs is available by visiting the school's website, www.stjohnsburyacademy.org.

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