Small step toward big future for Tiny Houses

Jack of this trade: Hunter Shelters President Jack Hunter addresses Eastern Suffolk BOCES' Adult Education Carpentry Program this spring.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

From the Tiny House File comes big things, with more than a dozen adult learners completing the first Eastern Suffolk BOCES carpentry class dedicated to the diminutive-dwelling movement.

With a little help from Riverhead-based sustainable-housing expert Hunter Shelters and Selden-based business-development services provider Dynamic Supplier Alignment, the educational cooperative of 51 Long Island school districts recently wrapped the first semester of an Adult Education Carpentry Program designed specifically to teach participants about Tiny Houses.

The program curriculum was written by the regional BOCES with input from its corporate partners. And that led to “amazing results,” according to Ron Tabbitas, president of Dynamic Supplier Alignment, which earlier this year signed an exclusive 20-year distribution deal with Hunter Shelters, a 2010 spinoff of Riverhead roofing and insulation stalwart J.P. Hunter Co.

In March, Tabbitas told Innovate LI that the Tiny House curriculum would teach BOCES students “how to manufacture it, how to market it and how to install it.” With the first semester in the books, Barbara Egloff, ESBOCES’ divisional administrator for career, technical and adult education, said the curriculum didn’t disappoint.

“We met with [DSA and Hunter Shelters] several times throughout the year to make sure the curriculum was aligned with industry needs and with emerging trends coming out on regional and national levels,” Egloff said Monday. “We want to make sure we are providing the education and hands-on learning opportunities that will enable our students to be more competitive as they seek a career.”

While that’s a universal truth for the statewide Board of Cooperative Educational Services and its adult continuing-education courses in particular, it’s the very foundation of Eastern Suffolk’s Tiny House class.

Barbara Egloff: Building something at BOCES.

The course included the construction of a Hunter Shelters dwelling at ESBOCES’ Bixhorn Technical Center in Bellport and guest lectures by Hunter Shelters President Jack Hunter, who discussed the history of the Tiny House movement.

Hunter Shelters made its name providing emergency housing after the devastating Haiti earthquake of 2010, and later provided temporary housing to Long Island victims of 2012’s Hurricane Sandy. Tweaked designs with built-in solar-power generators are now being evaluated for use as temporary medical clinics in West Africa, while non-emergency Tiny House projects – wherein cost-efficiency and smaller carbon footprints set the tone in one-, two- and three-bedroom units – present another promising vertical.

Both the history and that burgeoning future were included in the Spring 2017 Adult Education Carpentry Program. And while the first class absolutely did prepare 17 students to work specifically with Hunter Shelter products, it also schooled them on the technology behind an emerging – in same spots, thriving – market sector, according to Egloff.

“Throughout the entire process, we were virtually sitting at the table with [DSA and Hunter Shelters] making sure we addressed regional and industry needs,” she said. “We also utilized student feedback to make sure we were including areas of interest to them.

“When it comes to emerging trends, we have all-stakeholder involvement in the process.”

Based on that student feedback, Egloff rated the first Tiny House class successful enough for a sequel, coming this fall. The next installment will both continue the adventure for returning Carpentry Program learners and welcome new ones into the fold.

“Students who did not have the opportunity to enroll in the spring can enroll in the fall class, and the students who were in the spring class will already have a springboard into additional emerging trends: how we can utilize the Tiny House as a means of emergency housing, temporary housing and housing more similar to what we see on HGTV,” Egloff said.

“They will all learn together,” she added. “But the ones who were in the class in the spring will take on different roles when it comes to the hands-on components.”

While the education/industry collaboration figures to remain self-funded through at least the start of the fall semester, ESBOCES is “actively seeking additional funding so we can truly bring the course where it needs to be,” according to the divisional administrator, who said “startup funding” of around $250,000 “would be a nice springboard for us.”

“Especially when it comes to new technologies,” Egloff noted. “We want to have all of the new technologies available for our students to develop hands-on experience right on site.”

The funding search involves a lot of time researching NYSERDA grant programs and visiting “different grant websites to see what might be coming available,” she added. Depending how the second semester goes, the program may soon expand to include additional corporate interests with access to other funding streams.

“Sometimes people want to see a pilot program start up before they show any interest in it,” Egloff said. “I believe there is economic interest in this out there. It’s just a matter of coming together.”