Stillwater students hone skills to create housing model

March 26, 2019

Another business has tapped into the skills of high school students in Kalispell.

Representatives of The Woodlands, a future residential development behind Shopko in Evergreen for people 55 and older, approached Stillwater Christian School to see if students would build a scale model of the housing project.

Stillwater teacher Ken Williamson took up that offer as a real-world project for his high school computer students.

On Wednesday, The Woodlands President Lance Fahrney set up the four buildings in the sales office on First Avenue East, where it will be on display to prospective buyers. The model was also displayed during the Kalispell Mini Maker Faire/Manufacturing Technology Expo.

Stillwater freshmen Micah Reeves and Jeremiah Jepson stepped in to make adjustments as the model was set up at the sales office. Nearby, Stillwater junior Eric Anderson used a paintbrush to sweep away artificial grass fibers on a resin river running across an edge of model property, which in real life, is approximately 11 acres. With care, he dusted around two tiny kayakers. While all the other figurines on the model were purchased at a hobby store, Anderson made the kayakers on a 3-D printer. Williamson and his classmates pointed out the figurine in the red kayak is Anderson.

The model was designed using a 1:220 scale, or what Williamson and Fahrney referred to as a “Z scale.”

In addition to teaching computers, Williamson oversees the school’s maker lab - a space found in many schools where students tinker, design, build and create.

In the classroom, Williamson teaches a variety of techniques and technologies used in building, manufacturing and visual effects, such as computer numeric control machining, computer-aided design, welding and casting, electronics, robotics and video editing.

“We cover each of those in a shallow depth and then they do projects that take them further,” he explained.

Three high school computer classes helped out with the project, picking up where their classmates left off. To keep everything organized, the pieces of the separate buildings were kept in different containers.

“These buildings are mirrored like this,” Williamson said pointing to buildings diagonal from each other. “So, it’s not the exact building four times.”

Probably the most challenging part of the model project was figuring out how to simplify the detailed, professional architectural documents into software used at the high school, said Williamson, who took on the task.

Under time constraints, the class opted to use its laser cutter over a 3-D printer, which would have taken a considerably long time.

And despite the high-tech options, sometimes low-tech methods are just as quick. In this instance - X-Acto knives, tweezers, super glue, paint and many pairs of hands.

“We had to cut out windows and paint the individual railings,” Anderson said, in addition to gluing a printed representation of the building exterior to the wood bases that make up the buildings.

Jepson and Reeves said one of the trickier parts was ensuring everything lined up from the wood bases and balcony railings to inserting the tiny windowpanes.

“With these,” Fahrney said holding up two finely pointed tweezers.

Adding the detail of some realistic windows at Fahrney’s suggestion allowed lighting to be installed inside the buildings.

The architectural model took a couple of moths to complete.

“It’s really fun to see this thing come together from parts and pieces of foam board and wood,” Anderson said.

The next project?

“Right now we’re working on building a spot welder from a car battery” to build miniature race cars, Reeves said.

“We’re souping up Power Wheels,” Williamson said.

Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or hmatheson@dailyinterlake.com.