WINONA — Sometime around December or just after the new year begins, Melissa Skappel and her family will move into their new home.

When that day comes, though, they'll have already spent hundreds of hours inside their home, often with a hammer or a paint brush.

Skappel and her family – along with community volunteers – are building their home through Habitat for Humanity Winona-Fillmore Counties Homeownership Program.

"Anytime that John (Corcoran, construction manager for Habitat in Winona and Fillmore counties) called and asked if myself and other people can do something on the house, we said yes," Skappel said. "We'd go right away, do the job, and we'd get it done."

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Melissa Skappel, left, and her daughter Malaycia Skappel, helped out at the groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday, April 6, 2021, for their new house being constructed through Habitat for Humanity Winona-Fillmore Counties. (Contributed photo/Habitat for Humanities Winona-Fillmore Counties)
Melissa Skappel, left, and her daughter Malaycia Skappel, helped out at the groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday, April 6, 2021, for their new house being constructed through Habitat for Humanity Winona-Fillmore Counties. (Contributed photo/Habitat for Humanities Winona-Fillmore Counties)

Amanda Hedlund, executive director of Habitat in Winona-Fillmore, said Skappel has been a model client, putting in more than 100 "sweat equity" hours at the Habitat ReStore in Winona. In total, Skappel and her family, which includes her partner Tony and their four children, will need to put in 325 hours of work, with half of those work hours being done on the house itself.

Corcoran said there is plenty of work, and most homeowners clear both hours goals with room to spare.

Old college try

That said, much of the work thus far has been completed by students from the construction technologies program at Minnesota State College Southeast in Winona.

Skappel and her family have worked some on the weekends already, Corcoran said, coming in when the students aren't there so the two groups don't work together during the pandemic. The family has done some foundation work, some framing and set up the fence around the construction site.

By the end of April, the students expected to have the whole house framed – roof and all – with a goal of having the house enclosed by the time the semester ends in two more weeks. Having the student pitch in has moved the project forward quickly during a time when COVID-19 restrictions might have kept construction delayed.

"It's really a perfect partnership," Corcoran said. "They need the lab work, and they have a real house to work on. It's perfect for them, and it's perfect for us."

More than hard work

The students, who are in a two-year construction program, also bring some skills that are helping save money on the project. For example, the students have experience and training for pouring concrete, something Habitat usually subcontracts to a professional along with plumbing and electrical work.

"That probably saves them about $10,000 on this project," said Jon Powell, construction technologies instructor for MSC-SE.

Powell agreed with Hedlund and Corcoran that the partnership between Habitat and the college is a win for both entities, not to mention the benefit it brings to the clients.

"Everything we've learned and we've practiced before we got here, they've been putting into action," Powell said of his students' learning process. "Everything they're doing, whether it's this house or a $2 million stick-frame house, the process of putting up the bones are the same."

From left, Tyler Laures, Samuel Forney and Fernando Castanon, all students in a Minnesota State College Southeast construction technology class, work at the construction site of a house for Habitat for Humanity Winona-Fillmore Counties Wednesday, April 28, 2021, in Winona. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
From left, Tyler Laures, Samuel Forney and Fernando Castanon, all students in a Minnesota State College Southeast construction technology class, work at the construction site of a house for Habitat for Humanity Winona-Fillmore Counties Wednesday, April 28, 2021, in Winona. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

A good example, he said, is the students have built the kitchen cabinets ahead of time, so they've helped with a skill that not everyone working construction gets to learn.

"It's experience you can't find in a lot of places," said student Alex Garrett. "It's super valuable to see things from the bottom to top, and if you have questions, no one is afraid to ask."

Each of the students gets to work different parts of the process, Corcoran said, whether it's framing, roofing, concrete or other skills. And because the house is being built with energy efficiency technologies and materials, the students are learning skill that will be in demand for future employers.

The partnership has Habitat thinking of expanding its outreach in the near future.

"We hope it will double our mission for homebuilding," Corcoran said.

New house, great values

Hedlund said the organization bought the property for a dollar after it was condemned by the city. That, of course, is where the costs started. Habitat had to remove the old house and prep the site for construction.

Hedlund said the neighbors have stopped by during construction to offer encouragement and thanks to the college students, and to Skappel and Habitat for putting up a new house where an eyesore once stood.

"A new home in place of a condemned home helps everyone," Corcoran said.

Rhett Pronschinske, a student in a Minnesota State College Southeast construction technology class, works at the construction site of a house for Habitat for Humanity Winona-Fillmore Counties Wednesday, April 28, 2021, in Winona. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
Rhett Pronschinske, a student in a Minnesota State College Southeast construction technology class, works at the construction site of a house for Habitat for Humanity Winona-Fillmore Counties Wednesday, April 28, 2021, in Winona. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

The house will have four bedrooms and two bathrooms with the master bedroom on the main floor along with the kitchen and laundry.

Construction was originally due to start last August, but the pandemic's restrictions got in the way, and Skappel and her family were left waiting.

"I keep explaining to my children, it’s the COVID situation that put everything on hold," Skappel said. "Now they see the progress, and more happier questions are being asked."

Cody Kreidermacher, left, and Rhett Pronschinske, both students in a Minnesota State College Southeast construction technology class, work at the construction site of a house for Habitat for Humanity Winona-Fillmore Counties Wednesday, April 28, 2021, in Winona. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
Cody Kreidermacher, left, and Rhett Pronschinske, both students in a Minnesota State College Southeast construction technology class, work at the construction site of a house for Habitat for Humanity Winona-Fillmore Counties Wednesday, April 28, 2021, in Winona. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)