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Building Construction Technology program gives CCCC students an extra step

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Click to enlarge,  CN+R Staff photo by Zachary Horner. Jeff Gannon helped establish the building construction technology program at Central Carolina Community College's campus in Pittsboro. Gannon is standing in the in-progress Chatham Cottage, a yearly project that BCT students undertake.

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CN+R Staff photo by Zachary Horner. Jeff Gannon helped establish the building construction technology ... (more)

02.18.2019College & CommunityCollege GeneralCurriculum Programs

By ZACHARY HORNER Chatham News + Record Staff

PITTSBORO - Construction is quite a different field than nursing. At least that's what former registered nurse Roxanne McDonough thought when she signed up for Central Carolina Community College's Building Construction Technology program. "I got terribly burnt out, wasn't really enjoying what I was doing," McDonough said. "(So) I chose to do something that I found that I enjoyed doing, which was building stuff."

McDonough's story might be typical of many community college students -- adults trying a new career path -- but choosing construction might not just fit her desire to build. As Chatham County continues to grow with several residential developments and commercial development expected to follow behind, the college hopes its program will play a role in that future.

"It's a really wonderful opportunity for a lot of people," said Jeff Gannon, the lead instructor of the BCT program, which began on CCCC's Pittsboro campus in the fall of 2016. "You can have a varied background, come into this business and set yourself up a lifelong, financially-rewarding career right here in Chatham County. You can find plenty of work here in your hometown." The program is an offshoot of the college's Sustainable Technology major that focuses more on the nuts and bolts -- no pun intended -- of construction, building codes, electricity, plumbing and more. Gannon said the program attempts to help give students the whole picture of what goes into construction, work that culminates in the Chatham Cottage.

The Cottage is a yearly, 500-square foot residence that students build from scratch and is auctioned off in late July. Lyle Wesner, another student, said it offers a different opportunity that most construction sites, where laborers might just be focusing on one specific task and doing it repeatedly. "Jeff encouraged everybody to take the opportunity to do something they were uncomfortable with," Wesner said. "So everybody rotated through the different building components that were going on at one time and everybody got their hands on everything." It's that type of "real world" experience that attracted Wesner to the program. Gannon spent 12 years as a contractor focusing on sustainable technologies, a facet he's incorporated into the program he leads now. He says that construction is among the leading contributors to climate change across the world and that little changes to the construction process can make a big difference. "We're not just teaching construction skills, we're teaching folks how to build better, how the little differences in how you put two pieces of wood together makes a difference in how the house operates," Gannon said. "With the scale of development we face here in Chatham County, we stand to make a fairly decent impact on the carbon output that of all these construction projects are contributing here in our area." According to a 2013 report by the United Nations Environment Programme, buildings both commercial and residential account for approximately 40 percent of annual energy consumption and up to 30 percent of all energy-related greenhouse gas emissions around the world. But the report states that "the building sector has also been shown to provide the greatest potential for delivering significant cuts in emissions at low or no-cost, or net savings, to developed and developing economies."

Wenser has seen that first hand, as he currently works for a renewable energy company. He got the job after completing an internship there and said working in that field requires basic construction tech knowledge. "People need to be skilled in building to work there, especially for the guys that are in the field," he said.

On a recent Tuesday morning when Wesner was discussing renewable energy construction, the program's students are wiring two light bulbs to four switches. McDonough says it may sound simple, but you have to hook two four-way switches and two threeway switches to two light bulbs, and they all have to turn on. For the constructionally- uneducated, that phrasing might sound foreign.

It's that type of education that McDonough wants, even though she admitted that women don't really have a historic track record of being involved in construction. Gannon said that declining workforces have led to more women pursuing construction jobs and that females make up approximately 30 percent of the CCCC program. "They're coming in with this openness to learn," he said. "They're bringing assets and an extra skill level to this program." McDonough said her shop at home is better than that of her husband -- an instructor in heavy equipment operation at another college -- and he hears about it "all the time." She added that she's received more respect from people than questions or doubts, although sometimes when she goes to buy lumber, she's asked if it's for her husband. "I think the shift, it's starting," she said. "There aren't enough people to do all the work, and women have just as good a work ethic, if not better sometimes, than men do."

And she has brought some of the skills of nursing, such as critical thinking and teamwork, into construction. According to the National Association of Women in Construction, there were 1.131 million women in the construction industry in 2006, a number that dropped to 802,000 in 2012. But that number has bounced back, with approximately 939,000 women employed in various construction- related jobs at the end of 2016, about 9.1 percent of the field. McDonough posits that women may be bringing their maternal instincts into the job and that makes them better. Gannon's not totally sure, but he does want all of his students, male or female, to walk away from the program with a desire to see construction as helping others.

"My hope is that people walk away from this program with the awareness that the work we do is important," he said. "If it's not important, you make it important. By importance, I mean that it serves a purpose greater than the individual. You build quality work that's going to function well and is going to serve the community."