The recent "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" trip to Baltimore drew attention from every major news outlet in town. As the cameras rolled, hip celebrity carpenters and throngs of local volunteers showed up to work long hours in the Maryland heat.
At the end of the week, a great charity received a truly needed new space to help further its mission. And in just a few months, the weeklong ordeal will be broadcast for the nation to see.
Squeezing a months-long project into a week makes for great television, and when a prime-time TV show comes to town, that's news. The recent coverage reminded me of a similar but comparatively invisible program in Harford County.
For the past five years, the students of Harford Technical High School have been teaming up with Harford Habitat for Humanity to develop a building program of their own. If you don't live in Harford County, and perhaps even if you do, you've probably never heard of this program. There are no celebrities, no network TV budget, no public relations campaign, no media tent.
Yet quietly, beyond the public eye, a small group of students, their teachers, Harford Habitat for Humanity and local volunteers are doing something extraordinary — by all accounts, something that has never been done. They're b
uilding a modular Habitat for Humanity house that receives the highest certification from LEED, a building certification system for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. LEED was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council to establish a common standard of measuring green buildings on such criteria as site sustainability, healthfulness of the interior and energy efficiency.
"Last year, the students built their first green house, and it achieved a LEED for Homes Certification, and was the first and only modular, green-certified house built by students in the country," says Mike Svezzese, an instructor at Harford Tech and a pioneer of the school's modular homes program.
He says the most recent of the five houses his students have completed is the second green house built for Harford Habitat.
In an effort to one-up themselves year after year, the Harford students set a 2010 goal to achieve LEED Gold Certification, but with continued support and funding from Bank of America and the donation of solar panels and other materials, it's likely the house might receive a Platinum Certification, LEED's highest honor. If so, this program will have achieved something never done before — a Habitat for Humanity, LEED Platinum-Certified modular house built by high school students.
Harford Tech Principal Chas Hagan is proud of the work his students do to make each house better than the last.
"Each time, we take another step in making the program more important for the students. What they are learning about green building is real world, even a step past the real world," Hagan said. "Our students are learning things that even builders in the field are not doing. They are one up on many professionals in the industry."
Still, because the complicated LEED ratings and certification process can be difficult for even seasoned professionals to navigate, the school and Harford Habitat consulted with Chuck Cooper and others at Frederick Ward Associates Inc., an architectural and engineering firm, who also donated many hours to make sure the house would be as green as possible.
"We got started with the project on the last house to work through the certification process," says Cooper. "This year we got more involved as the LEED consultant." Cooper helped guide the project to certification by incorporating elements like insulation, solar thermal, solar panels and solar hot water.
Dave Guttman, construction manager with Harford Habitat for Humanity, was only recently introduced to green building through the Harford Tech program.
"When you're caught up managing the project, you don't see what really goes into it until the very end. When I went back and reviewed everything we have done, it was great to see how much detail went into every facet of the design and construction," says Guttman. "Looking back at all the little things that add up to such a great, big thing, you realize it is a huge accomplishment."
Green design, construction and materials aside, it's amazing to think that a group of high school students is building these houses each year.
"The neatest part is seeing what the kids get out of it," says Hagan. "When we have the students present the keys to the [Habitat] family, they say a few words about their experience. I get tears in my eyes listening to what this program means to students."
Through the green modular Harford Tech/Harford Habitat program, "These students don't just learn a trade, they learn 'helping people out,' " says Svezzese. "This is something these students will never forget."
Prime-time reality show it's not. But maybe it should be.
Dennis Hockman is editor of Chesapeake Home magazine. He can be reached at email@example.com.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times