National Association of Counties
Washington, D.C.

 Students Help County Build a House

By Charlie Ban

Anoka County, Minn.

Book smarts alone without practical experience aren’t enough to get you hired these days, but in Anoka County, Minn. students are getting a chance to improve their odds.

Architecture students from Anoka Hennepin Technical College helped plan a new house slated to replace a demolished structure as part of a neighborhood stabilization effort. The county has been using federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program money since 2008 to buy foreclosed properties at a discount — 60 so far.

Teacher Jay Boyle appreciates the opportunity his students received. 

Photos courtesy of Anoka Hennepin Technical College


Architecture students from Anoka Hennepin Technical College tour the construction site of a house they designed in Anoka County, Minn.

“Most students don’t get a chance to do real stuff like that,” he said. “They were second-year students, so they had spent plenty of time in the classroom, and the county gave them a lot of freedom.”

His 16 students submitted plans that they either drew from scratch or adapted from existing house plans. Boyle narrowed their entries down to six, from which the county staff chose one.

The county handled the demolition of the old house while the students got to work creating blueprints. They would see how different features and design schemes would affect that house’s cost. In addition, they learned how local ordinances would affect the project — how far the house must be set back from the road, for example.

“We kept the driveway, so that, plus the setbacks made it a challenge for the students,” said Kate Thunstrom, the county’s community development manager. “Throughout the project we were pretty much having them work backward from specifications we had in place.”

The project was charged with being as sustainable as possible, which Boyle said allowed the students to try “green” concepts they had discussed in class.

“They figured out how to orient the windows to make efficient use of solar energy, and they knew to put the garage on the northern side of the house to buffer it from the wind.”

“We have to balance it with the real estate market and timing,” she said. “We had the lot available when the students were working on two-story buildings, so it fit together well. When it comes to doing another one, we’ll have to look at what stage the students are in — whether they’ll be designing single- or double-story houses.”

Involving the students in the design process added no costs to the $267,204 total for rebuilding the houses, a price tag that included property acquisition, demolition and site preparation and the construction contract. Those costs were covered by the Neighborhood Stabilization Program.​