ISHPEMING – Students from two schools have joined forces to learn building trades from the ground up while they constuct an entire commercial building – a garage for a local business.

The 18 students, 15 from Westwood High School and three from Ishpeming High School, are working on building a commercial 38-by-68-foot garage for Dave’s Collision Center in Ishpeming. The student builders have been working all school year on this project for a building trade class.?They began on-site work in November.

“We built everything from the ground up,” said John Jessen, Westwood High School building trades instructor. “The kids are involved in framing the structure, setting the trusses, sheeting both the walls and the roof and putting on a metal exterior finish on the whole building.”

The students started out in the classroom at the beginning of the school year learning pre-building construction and workplace safety, Jessen said.

“People come to me and say want a project built,” Jessen said. “Usually the first person that has the money to start the project is the first one that we build. In this case, it’s a pretty extensive project, so we’ve been on it all year, and all the way through the winter.”

Students typically learn everything that’s involved in residential framing, Jessen said.

“We usually build garages and things like that for homeowners,” he said.

The class is useful in many ways. It helps kids who want to get into the building trades – either through getting into the trades immediately after high school or going on to a college or university, Jessen said. It also serves as a math credit toward high school graduation.

“It’s also a great class to be in to learn some carpentry skills for being a homeowner,” he said. “A lot of the things that we do here can translate into owning your own home, maintaining your own home.”

Westwood Senior Ian Altobello, 18, is using the class not only for a fourth-year math credit, but to also learn something he can put to use as a potential homeowner later in life. Altobello said he plans to go into criminal justice after graduation.

“We learned everything we needed to know about building a garage, house and any type of building,” Altobello said. “It’s a great experience to get out of the classroom and really learn some good trades that we’re going to know for the rest of our lives.”

Altobello said students should take the building trades class because it will be very useful in life to know. He said it’s an experience he’ll never forget.

“You never know when you need to build your house or build a garage. It saves a lot of money when you know how to build things instead of contracting people out for it,” he said. “And honestly, not to disrespect any math class, but I’ve probably learned more in this class than I’ve learned in many classes.”

Altobello said his favorite part of the class has been working on the roof of the garage.

“The trusses are pretty scary but at the same time it’s quite the experience being on top of those scaffoldings and having those big trusses that go on the roof – and putting them on,” he said.

The students have gotten experience using tools ranging from pneumatic nailers to every kind of saw imaginable for construction.

And this year’s tall building has given them a lot of experience with working on scaffolding and using fall prevention, Jessen said. Students have been working regularly high atop of the building and have obtained a pretty extensive knowledge of building the scaffolding, working on it and taking it apart.

“I’ll definitely use these skills for the rest of my life,” Altobello said.

Adelle Whitefoot can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 243. Her email address is