Construction teacher Tim Hart estimates his classes have added about $250,000 in additions and improvements to the East Ridge High School campus in the past seven years at a cost of only about $20,000.
Standing atop the mound of concrete he helped build, Collin Sweatman can't help but feel proud.
"I just really like the way it looks when I've built something," he said.
Sweatman is among several students in East Ridge High School's construction academy who have spent much of this year building a two-story press box at the softball field several hundred yards behind the main school. The new structure will include an upstairs press box and a ground-floor dressing room for the softball team.
It's the latest in a series of building projects around campus that have been completed by East Ridge construction students.
Sweatman, a junior student in masonry class, already has left a mark on campus, helping to build dugouts at the softball field last year.
"Every time I go by that it's like, 'Wow, I helped build that,'" he said. "It's really neat."
Construction students say they're drawn to the physical work and the satisfaction of seeing a completed project.
Teacher Tim Hart said the courses help instill life skills as well as help prepare students for high-paying jobs after high school. The construction academy at East Ridge includes courses in electric work, plumbing, carpentry and masonry, where real jobs can pay up to $28 an hour. Hart said he tries to run his projects just like a real job site.
"The kids see you have to work in adverse situations and find solutions," he said.
But not all the students in the academy will necessarily go into construction fields.
"We cover the whole spectrum, from the kid who just wants to work with his hands and his tools to the kids who want to become architects, engineers and even entrepreneurs," Hart said.
Hart said private businesses help fund the projects by donating supplies or providing equipment. Area construction companies come to schools such as East Ridge, looking for qualified people to work in their field, Hart said.
"They come out looking for them," he said. "That's the reason the industry supports us so much."
This project was also partially funded by a donation from Hamilton County Commissioner Tim Boyd's discretionary fund and an allotment from the city of East Ridge.
Senior Dillon Williams hopes to go into construction management as a career and said his hands-on experience in Hart's class should help him as he moves on to Middle Tennessee State University in the fall.
Williams said he likes working hard and getting dirty, and the masonry course is a nice change of pace from other classes.
"They don't compare at all," he said. "This is just getting outside and doing something you like. And this is a field there's always going to be jobs in."
Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...