Replica of Elvis's house teaches local students construction skills

By CHRIS GULLICK,, 17 March 2007

Ron Reed sees a lot of juveniles in court in his job as a public defender for Butte County, but he prefers to see them swinging hammers, drilling holes and painting — and many afternoons this month he's gotten his wish.

Students in Matt McGuire's construction class at the Academy for Change (AFC) are working on an idea of Reed's, to build a replica of Elvis Presley's birth home.

Reed presented the idea to Bernard Vigallon, the school's director, and McGuire. He researched the project, taking measurements at the house personally, when he visited his sister in Tupelo, Miss.

Friday afternoon, Reed looked on as students painted siding, drilled bolt holes, sawed lumber for eave vents and pounded nails into roof supports, at the work site on the back of the school's Cohasset Road property.

The skeleton of the 19-by-30-foot house stood on blocks, plywood covering its floor and a roof framed above, the ends of each eave painted a clean white.

Student Joseph LeCroix stood on a ladder, using a hand auger to drill holes where bolts would connect posts to roof supports. Jared Lohmeier measured lumber to be used for eave vents.

Reed's contractor son, Jordan Reed, coached Lohmeier on a safe way to use his thumb as a guide before starting to saw the pieces.

Lohmeier said he had never done anything like this project before, but it had him thinking about future careers.

Jeffrey Granados and Erica Hinojos applied white paint to pieces of siding laid out on sawhorses.

McGuire explained that the students were painting the lumber before it was installed, to minimize their time on the ladder and to keep the project as safe as possible.

Each student was required to pass a safety test before using any of the tools, McGuire explained, but he added that they're not using any power tools. The work is being done the way Elvis's father would have done it when the house was built in 1934.

As part of the project, the students learned the geometry required to figure out roof angles, and they studied the history of the original house and of the Depression. They will write about the house and the era in language art classes, as well.

"The biggest thing is learning to work as a team," McGuire said.

The nine students have the class as an elective, McGuire explained, and they all work on the house two afternoons a week. Four or five of them also dedicate most of their Saturdays to the project, getting extra credit for their labor.

AFC serves students who have been suspended or expelled from other schools, or aren't succeeding in traditional education for one reason or another.

McGuire said the students only started the project about two weeks ago and he hopes it can be completed in time to put the house on a flatbed truck and enter it in the Silver Dollar Fair in May.


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