The construction of a new Muldown Elementary School building is serving as a teaching moment for students both young and old.
As part of Construction Week — a collaboration between the Montana Contractors’ Association and the state Office of Public Instruction — elementary students last week learned about the different machines building their new school, while high schoolers discussed future careers in construction and engineering.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen visited the construction site of the new school last Tuesday and spoke with students in Ryan Boyle’s welding class later that afternoon.
“I’m here because of that dirt out there that’s going to become something,” Arntzen said. “Those quality people here, through their heart and the education they’ve got, and a vision that they’re going to build something from dirt on up. And it takes skill to do that.”
Construction Week is a nationwide effort that hopes to raise awareness of opportunities available in the construction industry and promote the field as a rewarding career option. This is the second year MCA has partnered with OPI for Construction Week.
The construction of the new Muldown school comes after voters last October passed a $26.5 million bond request for the school. The current building faces overcrowding and a deteriorating infrastructure.
After asking how many students present were planning on different education paths — two-year college, four-year college or a trade — Arntzen stressed the benefits of construction as a potential career for students graduating from high school. Whether it’s by getting a degree in engineering or by joining a construction firm, Arntzen said building is part of Montana’s future.
“Part of my vision as State Superintendent is to say ‘Let’s build Montana with you.’ In order to do that you take your math, your reading, you communicate with each other and work at the team level, but what’s exciting about this is when you turn around, what do you see? You see something, a structure — it’s there,” she said. “That’s what we want to do in Montana, we want to build things.”
“I’d love to have you stay in Montana,” she added. “I’d love to have you build Montana. I need you to finish school, get a job, pursue your education no matter where you can. Because we can’t do it without you.”
Ryan Dunn of Martel Construction, which is the general contractor for the Muldown project, also spoke on the career opportunities the construction industry offers.
For one, the field pays well, he said, with entry level wages starting just under $20 an hour.
“As you get older and more experience that wage can vary, of course,” Dunn said. “These are great paying jobs. There are opportunities in the trades that pay well, and there’s also opportunities in specialty fields, like plumbers and electricians that pay more as well.”
Cara Julian, lead architect for L’Heureux, Page and Werner, which designed the new Muldown building touched on the education she completed to get to her position. While becoming a licensed and certified architect did require plenty of class and a master’s degree, Julian assured interested students that they can find work in the field even if math isn’t their forte.
Likewise, Julian said the job requires her to stay up-to-date on new building and planning techniques, keeping her work fresh.
“I’ve been out of school for five years and I’m still constantly learning,” she said.
Muldown students spent the first half of the day out in the rain and mud touring the construction site, learning about the various machines and vehicles being used to build the new school.
While the students weren’t yet being asked to consider construction for their future careers, they were quizzed on the construction practices and technology by Dunn.
Dunn said the students’ knowledge of construction varied by age, with third- and fourth-graders having solid ideas of the construction process and machines, while kindergarteners and first-graders simply sat wide-eyed and in awe.
Before heading outside, Julian read to students and fielded their questions about the new school.
During their tour, Jennifer Watson and Tara Brown’s third-graders asked a variety of questions, such as whether the new school will have an art room, if second graders would be in the new school and how many tables the cafeteria would hold. One student asked if the new gym would be carpeted, as is the current Muldown gym.
Upon hearing Julian say the new gym will have a wood floor, the students burst into cheers.