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Nevis students learn rigors of home ownership

Nevis teacher Olaf Netteberf engages an audience of sophomores on the intricacies of home ownership. (Jean Ruzicka / Enterprise)

Nevis industrial tech teacher Olaf Netteberg tells his sophomore students, “Pack away your homework; you’ll need a decade from now.”  Netteberg and his building trade students have been adding homes and garages to the landscape for the last 20 years.  Now he’s advising  young homeowners-to-be to Know Your House, “setting a foundation” by imparting the components necessary to gain – and maintain - a street address.  The idea for the class sprung from the reality of the cost of home ownership, based on income and family numbers, and just what “square footage” constitutes.  He headed to principal John Strom with the proposal, who, along with superintendent Gregg Parks and the advisory committee, gave it “two thumbs up.”  

The students are introduced to “realistic cost.” Having grown up in an area where homes range from modest to palatial lakefront abodes, the students had not yet considered the factors dictating this.   Netteberg sent them to area real estate websites (the range from Park Rapids to Walker) to choose 10 homes randomly in various cost ranges, size, bedroom numbers and amenities, as well as location – country (some with considerable acreage), city and lakeshore.  “That generated a huge conversation,” he said of the variables.  And just what constitutes a square foot opened eyes.  “It makes kids aware of their surroundings. They are just a few short years away from adulthood,” Netteberg said.  The students agree, heartily.  “It’s life,” Sam Hitchcock said. “You can’t have something you can’t afford.”  The students play a “game of life.” A roll of the dice determines the type of housing affordable to each individual. Variables are married or single, wages (ranging from minimum hourly to $75,000 annually) and number of children. This raised awareness of careers.  “We started in the basement and went up,” Ryan Thompson said of deciding among basements vs. slab on grade vs. crawl spaces, and the advantages/ disadvantages.  

The student gained an understanding of insulation’s R value.  And design, Donny Peet added. “Building up and smaller costs less,” he said of two-story abodes.  “And the pitch of the roof,” Angelica Shimer said. “Now I can’t stop looking at that,” she said. A recent trip to Fargo had her eyeing the “hilly parts and how the houses are impacted by wind.”  “Otherwise, I’d be clueless,” she said.  The students enthusiastically embrace the class. “It’s my favorite class of the day,” Hitchcock said.  “Seeing a house being put together, and then going out and doing it,” said Peet, echoing his cohorts’ sentiments.   The students went out to the current home building job site west of town two days a week (earlier this fall) where most became carpenters, not a mere audience.  Generally, the students learned, people can qualify to buy a home that’s 2.5 times their annual income.  “Now go find a house,” Netteberg told them, realtors subsequently advising, “Go to the bank first.”  

Credit scores are a real issue, they learned.  Home Stretch, the Headwaters Regional Development Commission’s workshop for first-time homebuyers, became a go-to site.  For the single mom working for minimum wage with two children, the students discovered, home ownership may not be an option. “That’s why there are rentals.”  Kids reviewed architectural styles – ranging from Victorian to modern – and discussed the elements of design.   Students read a buyer’s guide and headed to the Department of Commerce’s website to determine answers to assignments, such as:  n What percentage of energy costs can be reduced by simple energy-saving improvements?  n Explain how an “ice dam” forms.  n What is the recommended temperature setting in the winter? (The kids were attuned to this one).  They will be headed to the North Dakota School of Science in Wahpeton in early December to learn a bit more on construction.  

Their pièce de résistance will be a floor plan of their own design, a 1,250-square-foot, three-bed-room, two-bath home, replete with a stairwell to the basement. This will be accomplished through 3-D, computer aided drafting.     “The goal is for the kids to keep their homework and, a decade from now, when they are 25, dig in the box,” Netteberg said. “I hope they will be in a position to buy.”