Ann Arbor reaps benefits of EMU's new course

January 5, 2014, 12:01 am

By RYAN STANTON

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — When students from Eastern Michigan University's four-year construction management program came together and built a gazebo at one of Ann Arbor's public housing sites last school year, they did it on their own time.

"There was a core group of students who really enjoyed it and got into it, but they weren't getting any credit for it as far as class — they just came on their own," said professor Jim Stein, who spearheaded the project, according to the Ann Arbor News ( ).

"It worked out really great," Stein added, noting it gave students valuable experience while benefiting the Ann Arbor Housing Commission by adding an amenity for its residents at the Green Baxter Court townhouse community.

"We decided, if we do it again, let's turn it into a course," Stein said. "And so we really created a new course for the students."

Stein said the new design-manage-build course that's been created is now his favorite class to teach in more than 20 years at EMU.

Thirteen students in the class recently worked from September into December to design and construct another gazebo — this time outside the community center at the Hikone public housing site in southeast Ann Arbor.

The townhouse community there is home to 29 low-income families, including dozens of children.

Students started out by walking the site and consulting with the Housing Commission and tenants to figure out what would be appropriate. They then came up with a design, got it approved, got permits, built it, and managed the entire process.

On a recent afternoon, Stein and his students gathered with Housing Commission officials to dedicate the new gazebo.

Housing Commission officials said the work the students put in is especially appreciated given the commission's limited resources.

"Public housing is not flush with funds," said Ronald Woods, an EMU professor of African American studies who serves as president of the Housing Commission board of directors. "We're able to do what we can with the basic structures, but what we haven't been able to do is those amenities that increase the quality of life for everyone."

The Housing Commission paid about $3,000 for the materials, and Stein's students provided the labor free of charge. Stein estimated it would have cost about $12,000 to hire a contractor to build the gazebo, so it saved about $9,000.

Joan Doughty is executive director of the local Community Action Network, an agency that provides programs and services for residents at Hikone. She said the gazebo, overlooking Mary Beth Doyle Park, will help build community.

"It's going to be another place where people can come together and socialize," she said, adding the shaded structure also will help a lot in the summer.

"We have summer camps and we do a lot of programs, and there are a lot of kids," she said. "So having a gazebo where we can take the kids and do reading stuff, and kind of one-on-one or smaller group things, is really going to be lovely."

Doughty noted Hikone is a "very international community," including some families from Jordan, Africa, Cuba and the Dominican Republic.

Also diverse are the EMU students who built the gazebo, hailing from all across Michigan, and as far away as Florida, California and even Saudi Arabia.

Mohamad Cherry, who is from Los Angeles, echoed many of his classmates when he said the project was all about the community.

"It's more so about the kids, giving them an outlet to express themselves," he said. "It's just a gazebo, but to them it's an outlet to sit and converse, draw — they can do whatever they want, and that's really what I take from it."

Brandt Thiel, who is from northwest Ohio, said the project allowed him to foster meaningful relationships with his classmates.

"I mean, normally you go to class and you might have one or two guys that you know in class," he said. "This way, we all came together and greeted each other and talked to each other like we were friends, not just classmates."

Stein noted the class met from 1-5 p.m. on Fridays, but on busy days many of the students would be there starting at 8 a.m. and work through the entire day.

EMU's construction management program trains students to be managers — how to handle budgets, schedules, people, and materials.

"In order to be a good manager, you should be able to build something, so we like the idea of doing it all the way from inception through completion," Stein said.

Stein noted there were some non-traditional students in the class who have worked in the trades. They helped teach the younger students some new skills.

"They say 'education first' at EMU and that's the slogan we have," Stein said. "And I think that really happens on a project like this."

Housing Commission officials and Stein already are looking forward to the next project they can partner on, but exactly what or where hasn't been decided.

"We're going to come back in the fall," Stein said. "We hope to do another project at a housing site for the Ann Arbor Housing Commission. They really like it, I think, and we do, so it's one of those win-win situations."

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Information from: The Ann Arbor News,

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