Students Build House, Then Help Move it to its Home

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Originally Published by: Inforum — June 1, 2022
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The house built by Fargo North High School students is hauled down Third Street North toward its permanent location Wednesday, June 1, 2022. C.S. Hagen / The Forum

In 2008, Eric Kester and his family’s dreams came screeching to a halt after his hip bones were crushed by a semitruck. He suffered nerve damage, but he survived.

From left, the Kester family of Matthew, Sarah, Eric Sr. and Eric Jr. wait for their new house to be moved at Fargo North High School on Wednesday June 1, 2022. C.S. Hagen / The Forum

Since then, his wife, Sarah, has also had repeated surgeries, and they’ve lived on a fixed income in a third-floor apartment with their two sons, Matthew and Eric.

They repeatedly applied for a mortgage to buy a house, Eric Kester Sr. said.

“We couldn’t afford a home on our own; we didn’t have the credit or the ability,” he said.

Last year, Lake Agassiz Habitat for Humanity found the Kester family a loan they could afford. The homebuilding organization found builders after partnering with Fargo North High School’s Spartan builders of the Construction II class.

The opportunity was a first for Habitat for Humanity. Usually, they call for volunteers to help, said Pete Christopher, resource development and marketing manager for Lake Agassiz Habitat for Humanity.

Movers preparing to haul a house on Wednesday, June 1, 2022, that was built by Fargo North High School senior students in partnership with Lake Agassiz Habitat for Humanity during the 2021-2022 school year. C.S. Hagen / The Forum

The students involved spent years in construction classes to ultimately build the house, which was moved onto its foundation in the Horace Mann neighborhood on Wednesday, June 1.

“Finally,” Eric Kester Sr. said as he watched movers slowly pull the oversized load carrying his new home away from the high school at 801 17th Ave. N. “We’re excited. Blessed. It’s a blessing from God. If Habitat for Humanity hadn’t helped us, we wouldn’t have a house of our own.”

“They did an excellent job building, and this is the first one we’ve done like this," Christopher said. "It’s good for us, it’s good for the kids. Everyone is looking for tradespeople these days."

Police helped direct traffic and block roads while a house was moved from Fargo North High School on Wednesday, June 1, 2022. C.S. Hagen / The Forum

There won’t be another house built by students during the next school year, but Christopher hopes to continue the partnership in the years to come, he said.

A common misconception is that Habitat for Humanity houses are given away for free, but the organization sets up affordable housing for struggling families after they go through a long vetting process, Christopher said.

The Kester family is currently paying $690 a month for their apartment, and their future mortgage will be about the same amount, Eric Kester Sr. said.

Every year, the Lake Agassiz Habitat for Humanity receives an average of 50 applications for affordable housing, but the organization can only help about three or four applicants. Although Christopher would like to help more, financial limitations and rising housing and construction costs due in part to the coronavirus pandemic are slowing the building process, he said.

Eric Kester looks into the unfinished basement of his new home on Wednesday, June 1, 2022. C.S. Hagen / The Forum

To build the single-family home, students leveled the house foundation, set floor joists, installed flooring and built walls. On the exterior, they set the truss rafters, sheathed the roof and applied shingles.

Inside the home, they insulated the walls, installed windows and doors, applied drywall and added the final trim.

The home was inspected regularly by both North Dakota and Minnesota inspectors and met all building codes, a press release from Fargo Public Schools reported.

“It really has been an awesome experience for the students and also giving back to the community. It’s been cool to see the family here and see this literally take shape,” said Fargo North High School Principal Travis Christensen, adding that the Kester family once bought the students pizzas and sodas.