Tri-County Students Work to Renovate Wrentham Gazebo
By Grace Allen
Visitors to Wrentham’s town common might notice the gazebo is looking a lot better these days. That’s because it’s undergoing a complete renovation, courtesy of carpentry students from Tri-County Regional Vocational Technical High School in Franklin.
The students have replaced the roof of the structure and will start on the rest of the gazebo once school starts up again next month.
Chad Lovett, Director of Facilities and Capital in Wrentham, reached out to the vocational school in hopes the students could take on the project.
“I am a graduate of a vocational school,” explained Lovett, who was hired in 2019. “That was where my education started, so I have a great appreciation for vocational programs.”
Lovett estimates the town saved close to $10,000 in labor costs by utilizing Tri-County to renovate the gazebo. The building materials were purchased with a grant from the Sweatt Memorial Fund, a local trust fund set up to cover expenditures for the care of the town common and its trees.
Jeremy Barstow, the Tri-County carpentry instructor overseeing the gazebo renovation, says the project is a win-win for everyone.
“The work the kids do is amazing and it’s wonderful when we get to do things for the communities that send kids to our school,” he said. “Our students absolutely get more out of projects when they are doing a real project out in the community versus in school. Those are some of the best projects and the ones the kids enjoy the most because there is usually some sort of connection with them.”
It’s not clear when the gazebo was originally built, but Barstow estimates the previous roof, with its red cedar shingles, was close to 40 years old. Red cedar shingles, considered one of the better roofing materials, have a longer lifespan than the asphalt shingles more commonly used today.
The gazebo renovation is a more involved project than usual, said Barstow. The roof had been leaking and the students had to complete structural repairs to the roof’s framing system before installing new red cedar shingles. The exterior of the columns are rotted and Barstow is unsure what else they will find when the project is restarted in the fall.
“There’s a lot of work to be done,” he said. “You might never see it just driving by. But that’s a lot of what carpentry is. Unexpected things pop up and that’s okay because part of carpentry is solving problems. I tell the kids that the details that no one can see are sometimes the ones that are going to matter the most.”
About six students at a time worked on the gazebo this past spring, a smaller number than usual due to COVID restrictions. The eligible carpentry students, all juniors and seniors, rotated weeks so that everyone had a chance to be part of the project. Barstow says the instructors try to replicate real job site conditions as much as possible during outside-of-school projects, including staging and safety-precautions.
“We teach them how to conduct themselves with responsibility and professionalism,” he noted, adding that graduates of the program are considered to be highly qualified, entry-level carpenters.
Although the Tri-County carpentry program was recently approved to do residential work, projects are primarily selected based on improving the skills of the students as well as giving back to the community. Last year alone, the program received upwards of 80 project requests.
Vocational high schools provide a hands-on environment for learning that prepares students for many good paying jobs, but students are also just as likely to attend a four-year college after graduating as they are to enter a trade apprentice program.
Barstow believes the value of vocational schools is a well-kept secret and references Howard Gardner, a developmental psychologist known for his theory of multiple intelligences.
“Some kids go through a typical school system and maybe feel they are not adequate,” Barstow explained. “But kids have all different kinds of abilities, and here, they get the opportunity to apply their strengths and skills. You watch them turn into confident young people, because whatever it is they are passionate about, it’s celebrated here, it’s encouraged here, and the opportunities are tremendous. It’s awesome to watch.”
To be considered for a project by Tri-County students, visit https://www.tri-county.us/career-programs/ and submit a work request. An instructor will be in touch if the project is considered a good fit for the students and if there is room in the schedule.