EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

May 23, 2013

Greater Lawrence Tech students, staff celebrate construction of Andover house

By Bill Kirk

---- — ANDOVER — Raymond Moran, an 18-year-old senior at Greater Lawrence Technical School, may have put it best yesterday when he spoke to a small gathering of classmates, faculty and members of a local non-profit when he said: “We built someone’s home. They’re going to have kids and pets. ... We are going to make a family happy.”

As everyone applauded and took a piece of chocolate cake, students from the school’s home-building program toured the finished home, perhaps for the last time, as that new family is expected to be chosen tonight and will move in as soon as the landscaping is done.

In a cooperative effort between the school, the Andover Community Trust, a local bank and the town, the 1,862-square-foot single-family home at 98 Andover St. has become a reality.

“Our goal is to build affordable homes throughout town,” said Susan Stott, executive director of the all-volunteer organization ACT, as it’s known. In a neighborhood of homes that sell for $400,000 to $500,000, she said, the 3-bedroom, 1-1/2-bath house, with a garage, partially finished basement and nice back deck on a 30,000-square-foot lot, will sell for just $175,000.

Not just anyone can buy it, however. Stott explained that the application process was started in February during an open house attended by 50 people representing 35 households. Out of that group, five sent in completed applications. The board of ACT has reviewed the applications, interviewed the applicants, and will decide tonight on which lucky applicants gets to buy the house.

She said ACT holds 99-year leases on the projects it undertakes, while homeowners must secure a mortgage and pay property taxes on the house. Anyone who tries to sell it in the future would have to sell it as an affordable property and renew the 99-year lease with ACT.

So far, that hasn’t happened.

The home on Andover Street is the sixth deal put together by ACT, and every one of them is occupied by the original owners, she said.

“All our homeowners say they are staying forever,” she said.

It’s easy to see why.

Electrical department students took a break from their pizza party yesterday and offered a tour of the new dwelling, which has been in the works for about two years. Angel Lopez, 16, Oscar Reynoso, 17, and Antoine Jacques, 17, all juniors and all from Lawrence, agreed they learned a lot about construction and their chosen trade while working on the house.

Reynoso pointed to the covers on the exterior electrical receptacles, noting that they are now required by a building code that changes every three years and which is part of the curriculum at the high school.

“That’s our bible,” agreed Jacques. “You have to know the rules.”

They are tested on it frequently, they said.

Later, while inside the house, their instructor, master electrician Michael Kennedy, asked several students gathered around him about what to expect during the pending visit from the town’s electrical inspector for the final electrical inspection.

Fernely Tavares, 18, another junior, was ready with the answer, saying that he and other students had to re-set the GFI switches on the outlets after they were tripped by the inspector.

It was one of just many lessons the students learned during their two years on the job. Carpentry students were involved in everything from framing to finishing, while plumbing students took care of pipes and drains.

Aisha Santos, 18, one of the only senior girls on the project, said she enjoyed doing the finish carpentry on the job, but really wants to go on and become an architect.

She said during remarks to the whole group that she was proud of what she and her classmates had accomplished.

“This is a proven fact of what we do,” she said. “It shows our skills and the effort we put into the final product. We put in 100 percent effort.”

And, she added, “we are giving back to the community.”

Kyle Svetly-Berg, 19, a senior carpentry student, said he learned a lot as well, including how the weather can make the job more difficult.

“It was wicked outside” during the winter, he said. One of their instructors, Robert Fairbanks, went out and purchased a propane heater that he put in the basement so that during break, the students could warm up.

“We’d work an hour-and-a-half and then go inside for 15 minutes to warm up,” he said.

School Superintendent-Director John Laboie agreed, saying students got “real-work experience” on a job site, learning how to work “in the cold, heat, in tough quarters, under a strict timetable, and as a team. They learned how the different trades have to communicate and work together. The kids got to think for themselves, resolve problems and come up with solutions.”

John Pearson, the president of ACT and also the architect of the house, said the project was relatively smooth, thanks to the support of the town, which sold the land at a tax title auction to the non-profit group for $30,000. The Board of Selectmen was also helpful by granting the necessary approvals.