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Cardozo Students Build House from the Ground Up

Dorothy Rowley | 12/12/2012, 9:32 a.m.

Contemporary Dwelling Showcases Students' Skills

Years from now, some of the students currently enrolled in the Academy of Construction and Design (ACAD) at Cardozo High School in Northwest, will be able to cruise by their old stomping ground, and point to a house that they actually built from the ground up.

For the first time in the history of the District, a single-family dwelling, conceived and designed by students has been erected in the Brightwood community at 5734 13thSt. - a stone's throw away from Cardozo. For most of the one dozen students who participated, it took years of classroom assignments, working with licensed instructors and industry professionals to complete the contemporary three-story building. But when the ribbon was cut Dec. 6, they beamed with pride as the community walked through the house that the students built.

ACAD Director Shelly Karriem said the ribbon-cutting event had been a long time in the making.

"It didn't come without some trials and setbacks," said Karriem. "We had our share of obstacles, but we were bound and determined . . . it [has] been an experience of a lifetime," she said. "Our students really took ownership of this project, they made history. It's going to be an incredible thing for them and others in future generations to drive by and say, 'your mom or your dad helped build that house.'"

In jump-starting the project in 2010, the District's Department of Housing and Community Development donated the vacant lot to the nonprofit D.C. Students Construction Trades Foundation - which works in partnership with District of Columbia Public Schools - and provided the primary funding for the house's construction.

Bethesda-based Miller & Long Concrete Construction signed on as one of the mentor companies, and its chairman John McMahon, explained their involvement. In doing so, McMahon, 72, recalled how the business sector had been criticized for years for not hiring District residents.

"Eight years ago, we looked at the D.C. public school system, which had no practical vocational training or programs for students," McMahon said in reference to ACAD's formation. "We believed the unemployment problem [was related to] the school system, because so many students were graduating with no pragmatic skills."

McMahon, who enrolled in vocational classes at Woodrow Wilson High School in Northwest, where he is a graduate, said he and others at Miller & Long realized that many of their peers in the construction trade launched their careers based on vocational training.

"We decided that students in District public schools should have the same opportunities, and we created the academy at Cardozo," he said. As ACAD evolved, he said they looked at a similar program in the Montgomery County public schools system where the students had built a house. It wasn't long after, that ACAD's house construction program got underway. "This house is a good example of what kids can do - and they're going to go out into the world knowing it can be done," McMahon said.

Almost every day during the school year from November 2010 until just a couple weeks ago, the students donned hard hats and safety gear, working on the house. From reading blueprints and ordering supplies, to pounding nails and toting beams - the students did it all, with their efforts that resulted in a beautifully crafted, spacious single-family home that boasts three bedrooms and 3 1/2 baths.