LEESBURG, Fla. – A dozen Leesburg High School students will be doing more than math equations, English essays and science experiments this year. They'll be constructing a home from the ground up, too.
The three-bedroom, two-bath home will be built near downtown Leesburg for a family in need as part of a unique partnership between Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter and Leesburg High's Construction Academy.
Groundbreaking took place August 26 at 107 N. 12th St., with a throng of state and local elected officials, business leaders and members of the community showing support for both the project and the academy. The vacant lot was donated by the city.
"This is great – the students and Leesburg High School needed it, the city of Leesburg needed it and the community needed it," said Don Magruder, CEO of RoMac Building Supply and chairman of the academy's advisory committee.
Roughly 100 students are enrolled in the academy, and the 12 students participating in the build were chosen based on their performance and leadership in the classroom. Each was required to have at least one year of construction classes.
"They are really a great group of talented kids," said Lynnea Weissman, project manager with the Lake County school district's office of College and Career Readiness. "It's an opportunity for them to give back to the community."
During the roughly eight-month project, the students will work alongside Habitat's construction staff and professional tradespeople. They'll use skills they've learned in class to work on every phase of the build, including the foundation and framing, electricity, plumbing, windows, doors, flooring, and painting.
Senior Max Acosta, who is in his third year at the academy, said he walked into the academy during his sophomore year and fell in love with the program.
"It makes me feel really good to work on a project like this," he said. "I'll have a well-paid job after high school, too."
At nearly 1,400 square feet, the Florida-cottage style home will be larger than a typical Habitat home. It'll have a big front porch and design elements to help it blend in with the older traditional neighborhood, according to Danielle Shroud, Habitat's director of development.
The academy's instructor, Jim Ellwood, said participating students will be employable once they leave high school in a field with a growing demand for those with construction experience and skills.
Some students already are employed in the construction industry. Others have done summer internships and apprenticeships at area businesses.
"This will not be a labor workforce, this will be a skilled labor workforce and they'll be able to enter a career field that pays well," Ellwood said. As for the students working on the build, they'll get to see firsthand the sweat equity Habitat requires of the yet-unannounced homeowners.
"This is not a free house," he said. "The opportunity comes with strings attached, and the students will get to work alongside the new homeowners as they help build the house."
Isaias Serna, a junior who's also in his third year at the academy, said he's excited about giving back to the community while learning skills and gaining certifications.
"I'm excited about the future," he said.
Last year, the academy was bolstered with $866,000 in state funding after a major push by school Superintendent Diane Kornegay, business leaders and local legislators. The district used the money to add new technology and equipment along with college preparatory and industry certification classes, including carpentry and plumbing.
Habitat has also partnered with The Villages High School Construction Management Academy and recently broke ground on a home on Orange Circle in Lady Lake. The two schools now have a friendly rivalry going on to see which school can build the best home in the least amount of time.
A second construction academy has been launched this year at Eustis High School as well.