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Masonry gives construction students hands-on training

December 30, 2018

WATERLOO, Iowa (AP) — Students in Wayne Lidtke’s sustainable construction and design class have learned about house building by doing it.

They’ve framed walls, hung drywall, installed windows and doors, and done minimal wiring while building small scale houses at the Waterloo Career Center. The students will be working on some other skills, like roofing, in the Waterloo Community Schools’ program before the semester is over, the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier reported .

Though, the nine high schoolers put down their hammers and picked up trowels. Iowa Masonry Institute members taught them lessons on mixing mortar and building a number of structures with cinder block and brick.

Their task was to construct a pier. The column-like structure can support a beam in a building, an overhang on an entryway or have a more decorative use at the end of a driveway.

Students shoveled mortar out of wheelbarrows onto plywood platforms. They scooped up the substance with their trowels, depositing it on the edges of a pair of cinder blocks before adding another layer of blocks.

“You put a lot of mortar there so you have a lot of contact, just so in a couple years it doesn’t fall apart,” said Hunter Pierce, a West High School senior.

Chris Busch, overseeing the students’ efforts, emphasized the importance of getting the right amount of mortar between the blocks.

“That joint is an integral part of the unit,” noted the Marshalltown-based Bricklayers & Allied Craftworkers union training director. Ideally, he said, the mortar level will be about three-eighths of an inch.

Without the right amount, “it’ll start to lose considerable integrity,” said Busch. “Three-eighths is kind of that sweet spot.”

Students were building the piers five blocks high. “Then, they’re going to veneer it with brick,” he explained.

As one of the students got several blocks high, Busch offered a bit of advice: “You can use your level to check that, check for level (horizontally) and plumb (vertically)” to ensure everything is straight and level.

“It’s fun, it’s something to do,” said West High junior Nathan Elliott, of learning the skill. “Better than sitting in there on a computer. I like the hands-on stuff.”

Pierce also likes learning this way and said he would consider working in construction.

Those are the sorts of responses Busch hopes for from his training sessions at schools.

“This is basically part of our recruitment,” he said. Students started with basics like learning how to spread mortar, lay brick and use a level. They also built a low wall earlier.

Busch doesn’t expect everyone in the class to end up as a bricklayer. But bringing the program into schools is important to finding the next generation of workers — and the amount of time they’ve had at the career center only helps.

“This is great having a whole week in here to present masonry to kids,” he said.

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Information from: Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, http://www.wcfcourier.com

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