WILDWOOD — Sixty students, three years and one personal loan later, the Wildwood High School tiny-house prototype is complete.

“It’s been a long journey, and it’s been a learning curve for me as well as the students,” said Michael Crane, who teaches industrial arts at the high school.

The miniature abode was the creation of Crane’s construction trades class, a program he began six years ago as a way to introduce students to skills typically found in vocational and technical schools. Although students were learning on paper what they needed to, Crane said the real-life application was missing.

“I got the feeling the students weren’t seeing the whole big picture from start to finish,” he said.

So four years ago, he began planning with his students a project to build a tiny house.

Crane and his students designed the 310-square-foot structure and the following year began to build it from an existing camper, which they stripped to the metal frame. Crane took out a personal loan to finance the project and the supplies needed because the funds were not available through the school budget.

The students were exposed to demolition and welding, electrical wiring and plumbing.

For one period each day over the next three years, the students chipped away at the structure. On Wednesday, the final class of students to work on the tiny home admired all they accomplished.

“It was intimidating at first,” said 17-year-old Louis August.

August said he helped with many aspects of the home: trim, plumbing, electricity and woodworking to build the couch and countertops.

Ethan Lambert, 18, said he learned a lot of life skills over his three years in the program.

“I’ll admit, I didn’t know what I was doing at first,” Lambert said. “I learned how to do trim work, how to paint the right way.”

Crane said many students choose to go to a traditional high school because they want that traditional experience or they haven’t decided on a career path. He said his class was designed to expose them to a different set of career opportunities.

“Especially for students who haven’t made up their minds,” he said.

Edwin Ramos, 19, is graduating Thursday and has already been offered an apprenticeship with Celtic Air in Cape May Court House, where he will train to become an HVAC technician. Ramos said he was thankful to Crane and the class for all he learned while building the tiny home.

“All the things he taught me, I’m actually going to be using in the field I’m going to be in,” Ramos said.

Even for students who do not go into the trades, learning the skills from Crane’s class can help them in any minor home repair project.

“As soon as they learn it, they go home and apply it somewhere in their house. It doesn’t get any more real than that,” Crane said.

Crane said he was proud of the students, current and former, who worked on the home. Some alumni even came to see the final project at its unveiling Wednesday.

Next year, Crane will have his students build a luxury shed, which is a smaller version of the tiny-home concept that can be completed in one year. Those will then be sold, and the profits can be put back into the construction program at Wildwood High School, Crane said.

As for the tiny-home prototype, Crane said it’s going home with him. He can’t sell it because of liability issues, but he doesn’t want to either.

“There’s a story in every corner of the house for me,” Crane said.

Contact: 609-272-7251 CLowe@pressofac.com Twitter @clairelowe

Staff Writer

I began covering South Jersey in 2008 after graduating from Rowan University with a degree in journalism. I joined The Press in 2015. In 2013, I was awarded a NJPA award for feature writing as a reporter for The Current of Hamilton Township.

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