Students at Seattle's Franklin High School, plus a few Nova High students, built a small shelter that will be home for someone at the homeless encampment.
Nghi Quan bends down to pick up a stack of three wooden boards, each more than 5 feet long. With care, she carries the boards to a nearby section of the Franklin High School campus and places them next to a small blowtorch.
She’ll later use the torch to char the wood, giving it a black protective finish similar to the Japanese technique of “shou sugi ban.” The boards will make up the siding of a tiny home she and the staff of Sawhorse Revolution have been building for the better part of the semester.
Quan is a freshman at the Seattle school and has played a variety of roles in the construction. She is quick to say which task is the most difficult.
“Probably carrying the wood,” she laughs. “It’s really heavy.”
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Construction of the building ends next week for Sawhorse Revolution, a Seattle-area organization that teaches carpentry skills to high-school students. Together with design and building professionals, the students create structures that have a real use in the community.
This time around, the project is an 8-foot-by-10-foot shelter that will be delivered to Nickelsville, a Seattle homeless community at the intersection of South Dearborn and 10th Avenue South. The structure has room for sleeping and storage, but no bathroom or kitchen.
A total of 26 students worked on the design and construction of the home, mostly from Franklin High and a few from Nova High School. Staff from Olson Kundig Architects and Heirloom Quality Modern offered mentorship.
The shelter itself is nearly complete, standing on the corner of the Franklin High campus where Sawhorse has worked since late March. Sawhorse uses many of the tools and space inside the school’s shop — as long as the rules of teacher Mike Lawson are followed.
“Don’t come in without goggles. He’ll make you do pushups,” said Sarah Smith, the program director for Sawhorse.
By this week, the shelter’s windows, roof and rubber floor were installed, and the siding on three walls was already up. All that’s left to do is mount the siding on one final wall and put up the indoor shelves.
It’s crunchtime for the team, which is looking to wrap up the building and deliver it to Nickelsville next week.
“School’s almost finished for us, so we’re trying to get everything done and send it there,” Quan said. “But everybody is feeling hyped up to get it finished.”
Design for the home, called the Nest, started in October. Students presented the design to Nickelsville for feedback in December, Smith said.
Sawhorse qualified for a grant from the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture to help fund its Nickelsville partnership. The organization also started an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign in mid-March, surpassing its initial goal of $32,205 by almost $7,000 to help fund the Nest and future projects.
This is not the first shelter Sawhorse Revolution has built for Nickelsville.
The organization worked with students from the Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative last fall to build the Green House, named after the green street signs that cover its exterior walls.
Nickelsville received the Green House in late December and it is in use by community members today, standing out from the pink shelters and tents at the encampment.
“It does have a flaw, which is that it’s too tall,” Smith said. “So it’s not the easiest house to move.”
Sawhorse staff took lessons from that project and applied them to the Nest. This shelter is shorter and more complex in its interior. When it’s finished, it will have a loft bed, shelves and an entry ramp to keep water away.
“It’s in Seattle. Water is everywhere,” Smith said.
The shelter also can be easily moved on a trailer.
Nickelsville has moved about 20 times since it formed eight years ago. The encampment houses up to 40 people at a time.
The Nest is an impressive piece of work, said Ryan Miller, the external affairs coordinator at Nickelsville.
“The students did a great job on it. It took a lot of heart to get it done, and you know, they’re kids,” said Miller, 31. “You almost don’t expect that from a kid, you know?”
He said the structure will fit well within the camp’s current location, set at the bottom of a steep hill that many with disabilities can’t climb.
“It gives an option to someone who needs to not hike up that hill constantly,” he said.
The Nest is not the end to the relationship between Sawhorse Revolution and Nickelsville.
Sawhorse plans to build additional structures for the community, including more shelters, composting latrines and a solar-powered station to charge cellphones, tablets and other devices, according to Sawhorse’s Indiegogo funding request.
And for any critics who think high-school students can’t build a sturdy home, Quan offers them a response.
“Don’t underestimate us, because we can do much more than you think we can do,” she said. “We may be small, but we can do a ton of work.”