PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — If a man’s home is his castle, Beryl Ayotte now feels like a king.
The 74-year-old Presque Isle resident, who has volunteered more than 15,000 hours at the Presque Isle Regional Career and Technical Center, was formally presented a new home last week that was built by PIRCTC students as a community project.
“Beryl is a volunteer in our industrial and farm mechanics program, and has been volunteering his time on almost a daily basis for the last 17 years,” said Larry Fox, PIRCTC director.
Fox said the idea originated about two years ago when then-building trades instructor Jim Ouellette and former program instructor Wayne MacFarline were planning to do some siding work on Ayotte’s house with some of the center’s students.
“However, after realizing the amount of work that needed to be done on the house, Jim, Wayne and some others asked the question, ‘Could we — with all the people we have in the trades and donated supplies — make this a bigger project and actually build a house for Beryl?’”
The answer was a resounding, “Yes.”
After numerous meetings with SAD 1 Superintendent Gehrig Johnson and others, and after raising some seed money, project organizers decided about a year ago to proceed.
Construction of the house, which measures 14 feet by 32 feet with a 6-foot porch, began in March of this year at the center.
“The folks that we had talked with started getting the materials to us, and I have a list of about 20 local businesses and organizations that have made contributions of materials,” Fox said. “Several of them had some of their employees come to our building trades lab and do some work or work with our students, so it got to be a really good project for us.”
He said a lot of individuals, including former students of the technology center and Presque Isle High School, also contributed to the project, making it “very much a grassroots effort.”
Between the end of the last school year and the beginning of this one, technology center students worked a total of about five months to build the house.
Spencer Bragan, building trades instructor at PIRCTC, estimates that more than 10,000 student hours went into the project.
“When we make storage buildings and playhouses, you get an aspect of a building, but rarely do you do insulation, vapor barriers, plumbing and electrical, which were included in this project. This was a step beyond a normal project we would do,” said Bragan. “The students got to see a whole housing project come together.”
Students from Northern Maine Community College’s plumbing class worked on the house, as well.
“Our students got to see them work which was good because that’s one trade that we don’t touch here,” said Bragan, “but if there was some blocking that needed to be cut, our students helped out that way. The same with the electrical aspect. Seeing those types of trades was a good experience for them.”
Noting that the structure was built on a trailer frame, Bragan described Ayotte’s new house as a “super mobile home.”
“This has 2-by-8 flooring and 2-by-6 walls. You won’t find a trailer framed with that good of quality. The insulation value in this is really good. With the winters up here, we wanted it to be warm,” he said. “We’re going to have a kerosene monitor mounted in the kitchen/living room area which will heat this whole house without a problem.”
The home features hardwood flooring and tongue-in-groove knotty pine on the ceiling and walls. It includes a kitchen/living room area, bathroom and bedroom.
“We found that with students just learning how to do this type of trade, putting in the tongue-in-groove pine would be easier than Sheetrock, because once you put Sheetrock in, you still have all the mudding that goes with that, which is a trade by itself,” said Bragan. “This was a little quicker, plus it gives you that cabin feel.”
The single-floor, ranch-style house was designed by drafting students at PIRCTC.
“We probably went through a dozen different plans and finally came up with this one,” said Cameron Adams, drafting instructor. “We knew we had to haul it down the road, so that’s what gave us the idea of a trailer. Fourteen feet wide is more traditional, then it became, ‘What could we fit in a 14-foot width by what length?’ so we adjusted that as we went along because of bedrooms, bathrooms, living room and kitchen … that increased the length as we went. We packed a lot into a small space.”
What started out as a project eventually ended up as a home, Adams said. “More importantly, kids did it. I’m amazed at what students can do.”
The structure was hauled on Oct. 27 to Ayotte’s Chapman Street property, where crews then hooked up the necessary electrical and plumbing components.
The home was also handed over fully furnished, according to Fox.
“We’ve had dishes, glasses, silverware, a stove, refrigerator, washer/dryer combination, water heater, bed and more all donated … everything other than just the very personal kinds of things Beryl will want to bring with him,” he said.
Fox said more than 100 students participated in the project, including 40 building trades students, 12 drafting students, as well as participants in the FFA, FBLA and SkillsUSA organizations.
“I’m very happy with this project. We didn’t impact the school budget and were able to do something nice for somebody else. The students have developed an appreciation for the importance of doing things for other people and being part of a team,” said Fox, noting that in 2005, Ayotte was presented the Maine Principals’ Association’s Service to Maine Youth Award. “Beryl is very much respected and we’re happy to be able to do this for him.”
Seniors Ryan Buckley and Branden Plaud were two of the many students who were involved in the project.
“It was a lot more complex with a lot less room for error,” said Buckley. “When we make a shed and there’s just going to be a lawnmower in there, it’s not that big of deal, but with this, there’s an actual person going to live there so there was some added pressure.
“Beryl deserves this and has done a lot for this school and the community,” he said. “Before, somebody would come and pick up a shed that we built and we’d never see them again, but we see Beryl every day. It’s nice to know that he has somewhere nice to live now.”
Buckley said he will likely attend NMCC after graduating from PIHS next June.
“Building trades could be in my future,” he said. “I like it a lot. It’s fun and I like the hands-on aspect.”
Plaud said it was “pretty cool” helping Ayotte in this way.
“I helped with some of the framing, and did more with boarding on the walls, plus some finish work and cabinets,” he said. “I personally like doing more of the framing work and putting up the boards on the walls. I helped my Dad do our house just like that.”
Plaud said he may study building trades or automotives at NMCC next fall.
A visibly moved Ayotte was impressed with his new home.
“I think it’s lovely,” he said. “I’m really happy. It’s a big improvement over my previous home. I love everything about it.”
Ayotte has continued to volunteer during the construction process, and said it was nice being able to “see it being built.”
“They’ve done a good job on it,” he said. “There’s plenty of room here for me and my dog, Bruno.
“It means a lot to me knowing that so many people have played a part in this,” said Ayotte, who worked for many years for Delmont Wood in Mapleton. “I appreciate it very much. I’m surprised by everyone’s generosity. There are a lot of nice people around town. I love it.”