A Place to Call Home: Celebrating the 50th Model Home

Students work on the framing of an early model home in the 1960s. Note the billboard–Hawai‘i Community College was still Hawaii Technical School at the time. photo courtesy Hawai‘i Community College

Students work on the framing of an early model home in the 1960s. Note the billboard–Hawai‘i Community College was still Hawaii Technical School at the time. photo courtesy Hawai‘i Community College

By Brittany P. Anderson

While the locations have changed and more programs have joined the project, the core of Hawai‘i Community College’s Model Home Project has remained the same over the past five decades—offering hands-on learning to students, and affordable housing to the community. To date, approximately 4,000 students have completed the program. Celebrating the 50th home built not only signifies the achievement of the class, but also the achievement of a community.

According to Hawai‘i Community College’s history of the project, it was the brainchild of Herbert Watanabe, who in 1964 was with the Hawai‘i Department of Education, which oversaw Hawaii Technical School. He envisioned a trade curriculum centered around real-world application of skills with several technical programs working together to build a home.

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Herbert passed the reins of the project to Mitsuga Sumada, principal of Hawaii Technical School (predecessor to Hawai‘i Community College). Mitsuga continued to push for the program. After much consideration and discussions with trade unions, college advisory committees, and local suppliers the project had full support.

The very first model home was completed by the carpentry program in June of 1966, with sponsorship from developer giant of the time American Factors. (For historical context, that’s a full decade before Habitat For Humanity International was founded.)

At that time, homes were completed on the Manono Street campus and auctioned off to the highest bidder with the home then being transported to the buyer’s home site. However, by 1971, moving homes became much too expensive and the college sought to build the home on-site on state land.

In 1972, the first of nine state sponsored homes was built on Hawaiian homestead land in Pana‘ewa. By 1981, an agreement was forged with the Hawai‘i Housing Authority to build affordable homes on Popolo Street, and later on ‘Āinaola Drive. Currently, the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands functions as the owner and developer of the home and Hawai‘i Community College provides students for the design and labor.

Harold Nishimura is credited by former students as being a driving force behind the advancement of the Model Home Project. A Hawai‘i Community College alumni and skilled carpenter, he served as carpentry instructor for 24 years. Throughout his tenure as professor he coordinated multiple ventures outside of the Model Home Project to offer students even more opportunities for hands on learning.

`A`ohe Hana Nui Ke Alu `Ia (No task is too big when done together)

Hawai‘i Community College students work on this year's model home on site in Keaukaha. photos courtesy Hawai‘i Community College

Hawai‘i Community College students work on this year’s model home on site in Keaukaha. photos courtesy Hawai‘i Community College

“I poured the concrete this year,” Kalani Wills says proudly before the 50th Model Home dedication ceremony began on May 11. He stands admiring the workmanship visible from the exterior of the house. “I used to be a laborer. Now, I am understanding the perspective of a carpenter,” the delighted grandfather explains. The two-year Carpentry program offers a chance at personal development and a second career for Kalani. “I can start my own company, The Grumpy Kupuna,” he laughs.

The Model Home Project starts when Architectural, Engineering, and CAD Technology (AEC) students submit designs for a chance to be the winning Model Home Designer. First year carpentry students pour the concrete, second year carpentry students build the home, Electrical Installation and Maintenance Technology program students install the photovoltaic system, Diesel Mechanics students offer equipment maintenance throughout the project, and the Agriculture program completes the landscaping. Students of the Ola Hāloa Center for Hawai‘i Life Styles conducts the blessing ceremony once the house is completed.

“They go through the process very quickly and will have experienced every step of building a house and becoming a well-rounded employee,” Darryl Vierra, Carpentry instructor explains. Even the day of the ceremony students pass out programs and greet guests. Students answer questions from onlookers, taking great pride in a job well done.

Since 2011, homes have been built with sustainable design features including solar hot water heaters, Energy Star® appliances, Energy Star® metal roofing and radiant barriers, as well as native plant landscaping.

Assorted colors of ti leaf dot the perimeter of the yard and several ‘ōhi‘a lehua are planted around the home. Landscaping with native and edible plants are important considerations for the Agriculture students. Edible plants include Mountain Apple, orange, calamansi, jaboticaba, dragonfruit, and māmaki were planted in the backyard. “You’ve got to make sure they can live, at least a little, off the land,” acknowledges Skye Hoefke, a second-year AEC student.

As the ceremony edges near, it is remarkable to see the diverse range of students. Some, like first year student Maka-ou Karren, are laying the groundwork for their future careers and others like Kalani bring years of labor experience. Individually and collectively the students come together, contributing immeasurably to the accomplishment of the Model Home Project.

“I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to work outside and with my hands,” Maka-ou recounts. After helping add a classroom onto his high school, Hawai‘i Academy of Arts and Sciences, Maka-ou was inspired. He learned of the Model Home Project and enrolled in Hawai‘i Community College’s Carpentry program after graduation. “I’m in the CAD and carpentry program to learn the technical and hands on aspects of building.”

The Model Home Project wouldn’t be successful without each student working together, the partnership between Hawaiian Home Lands and Hawai‘i Community College, and the support within the community.

More than a Hale

Each year Hawai‘i Community College, in partnership with the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, gives a family the opportunity to have a place to call home. As the clouds part over Keaukaha, an azure sky is revealed over the 50th home. Students take their seats off to the side and guests settle in at long wooden tables in the driveway. The crowd is comprised of program alumni, dignitaries, and members of the community. Speeches are made and laughter peppers the recognition portion of the ceremony.

Students from Hawai‘i Community College's Hawaiian studies program participated by conducting a blessing ceremony for the house, the new family, and the students who worked on the project. photo courtesy Hawai‘i Community College

Students from Hawai‘i Community College’s Hawaiian studies program participated by conducting a blessing ceremony for the house, the new family, and the students who worked on the project. photo courtesy Hawai‘i Community College

The 50th Model Home couldn’t exist without the partnership between the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and Hawai‘i Community College. The Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1921 was set forth to provide Native Hawaiians with the opportunity to return to the land and maintain traditions. Prince Jonah Kūhiō Kalaniana‘ole was instrumental in setting aside approximately 200,000 acres of Hawaiian Home Lands. Today, those not already in Hawaiian Home Lands spend a lifetime waiting, some not ever able to realize the dream.

An impromptu hula performance takes place in the crowd during a Hawaiian music interlude. Students cheer the women on, elevating the air of celebration. More than 100 students were involved in the construction of the home, a cause for celebration, indeed.

Attention shifts to the reality that this is not only a learning opportunity for students, but also a home for a family. “We are so very blessed…and thankful for the opportunity,” the new homeowner, Luana Dang, says holding back tears. Keys and house plans transfer from Hawai‘i Community College to Hawaiian Home Lands, and then on to Dang with the crowd in near silence.

In the front yard, students begin the traditional blessing ritual. The new owner tells the crowd that she has waited 31 years for her homestead. Our collective silence is broken as she steps over the threshold and applause rings out over the Keaukaha neighborhood. This house joins six others in the immediate area built by Hawai‘i Community College students.

Shoes and slippers line the front walkway as everyone eagerly files inside to see the handiwork. The owner welcomes each person, thanking them for attending the ceremony. Students flood the hallways pointing out details to each other, beaming with pride. First year carpentry students eager to get to work on their own house next year bustle about the kitchen, perhaps becoming inspired to outdo the graduating class. Every door hung by hand, each cabinet made from scratch resonates with the sense of starting anew.

The Model Home Project engages students in all aspects of building a home, including installing cabinetry and fixtures. photo courtesy Hawai‘i Community College

The Model Home Project engages students in all aspects of building a home, including installing cabinetry and fixtures. photo courtesy Hawai‘i Community College

Carpentry alumni joke and greet one another in the living room charging the space with laughter. Harold Nishimura shakes hands in the shade of the carport. “I never thought of it as the only program in the state,” he says modestly, “I was just doing my job.”

The 50th Model Home for Hawai‘i Community College is a milestone for the program and the community. It is the only program of its kind in the state. Students are quick to offer that for them, the Model Home Project goes beyond learning a trade—it is an opportunity to start their own business, provide for their family, and learn to work with others. “About 70% of the graduates stay on island using the skills to build or remodel homes, start businesses, or go on to further their education,” Darryl Vierra reports. Since 1991, 15 alumni have earned their contractors license and frequently hire graduates of the program. For the new homeowner, this is a lifetime of waiting for the opportunity to live on the Hawaiian Home Lands all made possible through the synergy of a community working together. ❖


To learn more about the Model Home Project, visit hawaii.hawaii.edu/50yearsofmodelhomes

Posted in Brittany Anderson, Hawaii Island 2017 Jul-Aug, Home/Building permalink

About Brittany Anderson

Brittany P. Anderson is a freelance writer living in Hilo, Hawai’i. She is a graduate of English and Creative Writing from Cedar Crest College in Allentown, Pennsylvania. While at Cedar Crest College, Brittany was known for her storytelling and homemade rabbit stew. She is the former owner of local produce delivery service Big Island Farm Fresh Foods. As an avid primal and local food enthusiast, she publishes recipes and promotes local agriculture through her blog on PrimalLifeHawaii.com. Brittany enjoys promoting the local farmers, ranchers, and fishermen of Hawai’i Island.

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