Guiding a roof truss into place

Salida High School students Justin Shake, left, and Lane Carpenter guide a roof truss onto the first duplex to be built at the Spartan Heights development Wednesday in Poncha Springs. The two students are among seven apprentices to go through the Spartan Heights building trades apprenticeship program during its inaugural year.

As one of seven apprentices at the Spartan Heights development in Poncha Springs, Salida High School sophomore Justin Shake said he has seen an empty lot of dirt and rocks transform into a roughed-in duplex at 314 Hulbert Ave.

Shake, along with SHS freshman Lane Carpenter, used ropes to guide roof trusses lifted by a crane onto the duplex Wednesday, capping off both the building and their school year learning construction trades.

Salida Schools Superintendent David Blackburn stood nearby and said that while the duplex will likely be completed by next summer, Spartan Heights continues to evolve to better serve students, to provide needed housing for district employees and to create a model for other rural districts facing similar issues.

All seven of this year’s apprentices were offered summer jobs in construction trades, though some decided to take jobs in other industries instead, including Carpenter, who said he will work in ranching while school is out.

Blackburn said the job offers are a mark of success for the program’s first year.

The Salida school board last week approved a request for proposals to develop a long-term apprenticeship program. The request outlines an arrangement whereby “qualified individuals, businesses and nonprofit organizations” would partner with the school district and Chaffee County Economic Development Corp. to train students.

In return, that partner would “be allocated lots to build affordable housing for staff and the community … which is presumed to result in a financial profit,” according to the request.

To sustain Spartan Heights financially, the school board intends to sell one of the duplex’s units to a staff member and retain ownership of the other and rent it to a district employee.

Now that the development has gone through a “prototype phase” this year, the district is moving toward replicating the arrangement to build more units on the school district-owned lot.

A plan discussed by the school board at its April 11 meeting called for two single-family homes and four duplexes to be built at Spartan Heights.

The school district and other entities also hope to create a model that other school districts can follow to train students and develop housing.

“We are a year or two ahead of anyone doing this in rural Colorado,” Blackburn said.

The district has been awarded a $10,000 grant from the Colorado Succeeds Foundation that will go toward credentialing through Colorado Mountain College and a $90,000 grant from the Daniels Fund that paid for the installation of utilities at 314 Hulbert Ave.

So far, the development remains in the black financially, Blackburn said.

If the school board’s request for proposals succeeds in identifying a partner organization, the next, more long-term phase for Spartan Heights will begin in August with the goal of placing two to four new full-time workers into the construction industry every year.

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