NCK Tech's Hays shop students build house for auction in May

Margaret Allen
Hays Daily News
NCK Tech student Dawson Kempt, of Oberlin, joins rails to a panel to build a cabinet door, while student Ben Towner, of Tipton, cuts a dado at the NCK Tech wood shop off 22nd Street.
NCK Tech student Wyatt Dooley sands a cabinet at the NCK Tech wood shop off 22nd Street for installing in a house his class is building. The house goes on sell at public auction in May.
NCK Tech student Jaiden Mead on Friday was joining two boards to make a cabinet drawer at the NCK Tech wood shop off 22nd Street.

NCK Tech cabinetry student Wyatt Dooley on Friday rubbed folded-over sandpaper gently over the cherry wood cabinet, smoothing a tiny surface flub.

“I messed up putting on the lacquer, and I have drips and runs,” said the Garden City student during his Friday wood shop class. “I’m carefully sanding it flat so we can put on the next coat of lacquer.”

That's part of the learning process in the NCK Tech hands-on program in which students build a house to learn carpentry and cabinetmaking.

How did the lacquer predicament unfold?

“You just spray too much on,” explained Dooley, one of 10 students this year in the one-year program that runs from mid-August to May.

The house they are building on the NCK Tech Hays campus, 2205 Wheatland Ave., goes up for auction to the public on May 20, said their teacher Brandon Jacobs, department chair and instructor for carpentry/cabinetmaking.

The house is mostly done, Jacobs said, so it will be ready.

“They’ve come a long way since Sept. 1,” he said of the students. “They surprised me, in a good way. We started Sept. 1 and by the time we left for Christmas break we had a full house that was shingled, siding on, doors and windows in, all the drywall was in, and we started on mudding and taping. In about three months they had all that done. This is a great group to work with.”

From scratch

Every year, the class starts with a 64-foot by 30-foot foundation.

“The students go through all the design phase on it, drafting for the house, they pick the number of bedrooms, they do everything, order all the materials in,” Jacobs said. “The students started construction Sept. 1.”

In recent weeks they stopped work at the house to build the cabinets for the kitchen and the bathroom, working at NCK Tech’s woodworking shop off 22nd Street behind Munsch Fitness, 1104 E. 22nd.

On Friday at the shop, Blaise Vrbas, of Colby, was running door panels through a belt sander. In high school, he took wood shop classes for three years. Because his grandfather owns a carpentry business, Kearney Construction, Vrbas has done carpentry work with his family for eight years.

Even if he doesn’t work as a carpenter when he finishes the program, he said, he’ll be able to work on his own house someday, the way he has the NCK Tech house.

“My favorite part was framing up the house,” Vrbas said. “You can see a lot get done in a short period of time.”

NCK Tech student Dawson Kempt, of Oberlin, on Friday was joining rails to a panel for a cabinet door.

While he was in high school, Kempt took multiple shop, drafting and woodworking classes every year, then was a teacher's aid his senior year.

“I just like to be hands on. I don’t learn well in a classroom,” Kempt said. “I like to move around.”

He especially liked drafting the house plans using computer-aided design.

“It’s one of my favorite tools,” Kempt said. 

But he enjoys building cabinets, too.

"I like being in the woodshop a lot. It’s more fine work,” Kempt said. “It’s what everyone sees, so you have to try a lot harder on it.”

Next year, he plans to take NCK Tech’s HVAC program.

“My dream is I want to move up in the mountains and do all my own work,” said Kempt.

Open house

People are welcome to tour the 1,900-square-foot house, said Jacobs, which is built to go on a basement if the buyer wants.

NCK Tech president Eric Burks said this year’s house is the ninth one for Hays. Speaking Feb. 18 at the regular work session of the Hays City Commission, Burks announced an open house and ribbon cutting for the house on April 29.

Normally, the house built on NCK Tech’s Beloit campus is auctioned first, but in 2020 the Hays auction came first, said Burks, noting Dean and Julie Haselhorst, of rural Hays, bought it for $124,000.

“I usually go up to the bidder that lost,” said Burks, which he did last year. “And I’m like, there’s another house being sold tomorrow … So there was a Hays family that actually went to Beloit, and two nights later bought the Beloit house. So both of our houses that we built last year are now in Hays.”

The family that purchased the Beloit house was moving back to Hays from Wichita, he said.

“They couldn’t find a place to live and so they found this,” Burks said. “He got the job one day and bought the house the next.”

One of many programs

The carpentry/cabinetmaking program is one of 17 areas of study that the accredited college offers. Of the school’s more than 1,200 students enrolled, there are 250 full-time students on each of the two campuses. While Hays is the newer campus, its enrollment numbers are rising, Burks said.

NCK Tech graduates 300 students annually. About 93% get jobs, and 90% of those stay in Kansas, usually within 50 miles of where they attend, he told the commissioners.

NCK Tech was ranked the No. 2 trade school in Kansas by Forbes, and No. 2 by the Chronicle of Higher Education for graduation rates. The school annually generates a $30.7 million economic impact over its 18-county service area, Burks said, without any direct tax burden to the county. That includes 95 jobs, with 35 in Hays.

Finishing touches

At the Hays house, NCK Tech’s electrical and HVAC students on the Hays campus did the wiring and plumbing. Heat came in handy during the recent spate of extreme cold, said Jacobs, allowing the cabinetry students to finish sanding and painting in a temperature-controlled house.

With the Hays house almost completed, it's the trim work that remains, like putting in the cabinets and flooring.

On Friday, the class had finished staining the cabinets a deep Spanish oak shade.

“We’re going to get 80% of our cabinets final clear coat today,” Jacobs said. “We’re going to spray everything, let it set up and harden, and then haul them over to the house.”

This year has been educational for Jacobs, too, who was new to the teaching job.

“First year as an instructor, I wasn’t sure what the timeframe would be,” Jacobs said. “I had a learning curve myself. The construction part wasn’t new, it was teaching and letting these guys do all the work. That was new. Hindsight looking back, I was pretty impressed with how much they got done for as short amount of time it took them.”