Tiny House, Big Skills

Youth at OYA’s Tillamook facilities build a house from the ground up, learning job skills in the process.

The “tiny house” movement — an architectural and social movement based on the idea of living in super small homes, generally under 500 square feet — has gained more and more fans in recent years, people drawn to the idea of living smaller, simpler, and often in a more eco-friendly way.

But at OYA’s two facilities in Tillamook, the movement has had an additional, unique benefit: it gives youth the chance to learn how to build an entire house from the ground up, within the small confines of a close-custody facility.

For the past two years, youth from Tillamook Youth Correctional Facility and the adjacent Camp Tillamook Youth Transitional Facility have learned nearly 30 different trades as they created their own tiny house. They did their own plumbing, electrical work, roofing, drywalling, window installation, and floor installation, to name a few.

The finished product — a 250-square-foot home complete with a full bathroom, two lofts with beds, and a kitchen with a stove, oven, and refrigerator — represents thousands of hours of work from youth on every part of the ability spectrum, from those who grew up helping family members with construction businesses, to those who had never picked up a hammer.

“In other schools, students often take one class related to construction and then they’re off to the next thing,” says Jim Cox, the teacher who headed the project. “Here, we have the opportunity of seeing them travel through the whole pathway of the project.”

Cox is a Tillamook School District teacher with a background in construction who leads the woodworking program at the facilities’ Trask River High School. He first heard about tiny houses while attending a conference at Portland State University.

He immediately knew the concept would work well at the Tillamook facilities, where space was at a premium but students were hungry to learn new skills for potential future jobs. Cox worked with his students to design their own house, based on one he had seen in Portland. They started to build it in May 2016; they finished two years later.

“Some of the students came in very unskilled, lacking focus and common sense in building,” Cox says. “But as they continue learning and working, they rise to the top. They develop great self-confidence. Now they can say, ‘I know how to do it, I can do it, and I did it.’”

“You can’t put a price on the pride the students have when they’re done with this,” adds Jerry Dorland, Trask River’s principal. “And when the leave the facility, they could easily get a construction job.”

Tillamook Tiny House

The teacher who led the tiny house project, along with several youth who helped build it. Left to right: Michael F., Cade J., Andrew F., teacher Jim Cox, David H., and Chris H.

Cox recruited community partners to help with supplies and a few of the more technical details: Haltiner Heating & Sheet Metal and Tillamook Fireplace Center, Bay View Door & Millwork Co. Inc., Iron Eagle Trailers, Jerry Foss Woodworking, Roby’s Furniture & Appliance, and Rosenberg Builders Supply. Trask River High also has a construction program advisory committee made up of local businesses and educators.

If the students were inexperienced before participating in the project, it was tough to tell at their open house in May. They easily discussed the features of the home, including a ductless split heat pump, double-wall construction, knotty pine walls, hickory floors, a pocket door that hides the bathroom with tub and shower, metal ladders leading up to the lofts that fit one queen and one full bed, plus a couch that folds out into another full bed.

The finished home is 8 ½ feet wide; 12 feet, 3 inches tall; and 24 feet long. It weighs 9,850 pounds, sits on two axles, and can be towed and transported. It is wired for electricity and has a sewer hook-up.

Tillamook Tiny House

Youth working on the house in 2016.

David H. said his favorite part of the build was the windows — the home has 10 total, to bring in a lot of daylight. “I loved building the trim,” he said. “It really gives the windows a personal touch.”

Several youth said that when they began, they were skeptical the house would be a success. Much of that was due to their own lack of confidence in their skills. But as they looked around at the high-quality product at completion, their minds changed.

“I was here when they first started doing it,” Chris H. said at the open house. “Looking at it then, I thought it wasn’t going to turn out very well. I was surprised.”

A year earlier, on a sunny day where he climbed tall ladders to attach trim at the roofline, Chris said he had only minimal construction experience before the build. But the project showed him a new potential interest — and career.

“I like working with my hands a lot, especially using the tools and working with wood,” he said. “I like being outside, too. I could see myself getting a job doing this.”

House for Sale

The completed tiny house is currently for sale, with earnings going toward helping Trask River High School students build another tiny house. To learn more, contact Jerry Dorland at dorlandj@tillamook.k12.or.us.

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  1. Crisanne C. Roberts August 7, 2018 at 6:49 pm

    Jim and crew: Watching you during this building process was heart-warming. Your patience with the youth; their excitement and steep learning curve. A job excellently done! Cris Roberts

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