Instructor Allie Berenyi stood in the center of a large warehouse at Madison Area Technical College’s Commercial Avenue campus and demonstrated metal roofing techniques to a group of construction and remodeling students last week.
Berenyi's students are building three of the estimated 50 micro-lodges included in renovation plans for the historic Garver Feed Mill on the city’s east side, with plans to build three more.
Three sections of an MATC construction and remodeling course, each with about 15 students, are working on building the small structures through a partnership with Baum Revision, the project developer charged with redeveloping the landmark building and surrounding 11 acres. Madison College reached out to Baum about a year ago with the idea of working together.
Madison College instructor John Stephany said project representatives purchase the construction materials, vet the plans and work side-by-side on ensuring a successful outcome.
“They’re saving a little money but helping out our program a lot,” Stephany said. “They’re being very flexible, very accommodating.”
Garver project manager Bryant Moroder called the partnership a "win-win" for everyone involved.
"It's a great opportunity to not only give the students the tools necessary to be job ready and help broaden their set of experiences and expose them to the evolving industry of small homes," Moroder said.
Moroder categorized the small homes as "right-sized housing," which he said is a growing market in Wisconsin because of the increased number of interested clientele looking for starter homes, the state's rich history in manufacturing and the lack of affordable housing.
"Wisconsin, I think, has a significant potential to be a leader in the right-sized housing industry," Moroder said.
The Garver micro-lodges, ranging from 100 to 750 square feet, will be marketed to transient guests who would be able to stay overnight and experience “tiny living” as well as take part in the other amenities of the mill. The houses can cost between $30,000 and $50,000 depending on the size, Stephany said.
Under Baum’s rehabilitation plan, the feed mill building will house local food producers and craftspeople in individual and shared production, warehouse and office spaces with the necessities to be a functional food production facility.
Landmarks Commission chair Stu Levitan said the “innovative, affordable housing” models are not too large or visually intrusive to negatively affect the historic landmark.
“They're a-ok from the Landmarks Commission perspective,” Levitan said.
And while the project team may be saving money, the experience of learning how to build the structures is beneficial for Madison College students like Victor Rojas. Rojas has extensive construction skills and runs his own Madison company, VR Construction, but wanted to keep his skills fresh.
“I just want to know more about construction and to do a better job for my customers,” Rojas said. “Here I have learned many things I did not know before, so that’s why I keep coming here.”
Another student, Jassim Al Bahadli, has more limited experience. He moved to Madison from Iraq about two years ago and is learning to work with different materials than the brick, cement and sand he used previously.
Zac Barnes, another student, had no experience in construction before enrolling in the course. He and his partner are building their own tiny home they plan to use as a permanent residence, possibly somewhere in the Driftless Area of western Wisconsin.
Last week, students started installing siding made from reclaimed wood on Barnes' future home.
“It’s fun to know that anybody can do this,” Barnes said. “I never thought I would have the skills to do this.”
Barnes said working with his partner and the rest of the students has been a rewarding experience, describing it as the “biggest surprise and best joy.”
Barnes and his partner are not on a tight timeline to move in, but the house key is already familiar on his key ring. Inside his tiny home, there is a lofted sleeping area, bathroom, storage space, kitchen with room for an island, a living room area and possibly space for a guest to stay.
The lifestyle and values associated with living in tiny homes, such as concern for the environment, energy use and financial constraints, made sense to Barnes. As the south central region director for the Wisconsin Bike Federation, he said sustainable transportation fits into that mindset.
“I think a lot of it is just realizing as a young person, I’ve been happiest when I’ve not had huge expenses, debt or other things,” Barnes said. “I guess I don’t need to have too much here to make me happy.”