RMS?students construct mobile unit in class

Kolin Conklin, a student at Republic-Michigamme Schools, uses a hammer while helping to make a mobile sauna. The sauna has a changing room and hot room, among other amenities. Also pictured is student Gabe Dupont. (Photo courtesy of Republic-Michigamme Schools)

REPUBLIC — At the start of the 2019-2020 school year, Republic-Michigamme Schools added a two-hour, advanced shop course for students to provide an opportunity to allow for bigger and bolder projects.

John Hawkins, a Republic native who has hired Republic-Michigamme Schools’ shop instructor to help out at his camp, agreed to sponsor the build of a mobile sauna. Hawkins provided very few constraints, knowing Matthew Barbercheck, an educator of industrial arts, computer-aided design and Spanish, and his students would build an enjoyable sauna while providing meaningful teaching and learning.

Barbercheck began designing the building with the assistance of students. Being the first time the program took on a project of this scope, some design decisions and the prints to communicate those decisions to students, were printed off the hour before class. While the “build the plane as we fly it approach” was stressful, it offered students an in-depth look of the entire process.

Students trudged through miscommunication, teamwork, snow and mud to complete an entire building shell, while learning framing techniques, as well as components of walls and roof assemblies. Students worked with representatives from various suppliers to ensure access to different building materials.

But as imagination was beginning to flourish with ideas for the interior, the COVID-19 shutdown brought all momentum to a halt.

Kolin Conklin, left, and Brandon Skogman lift the wall framing for a mobile sauna Republic-Michigamme Schools students built. The sauna has a changing room and hot room, among other amenities. (Photo courtesy of Republic-Michigamme Schools)

“What are we going to do about the sauna?” was the first question students asked whenever they spoke with Barbercheck during the shutdown. The teacher was understanding about the situation, but getting a bit antsy since unfinished projects often remain unfinished.

Rebuilding momentum on the project, potentially with a new group of students, would be a challenge. Some building materials and processes were time-sensitive and needed to be addressed in a shorter-than-shutdown timespan.

School grounds were off-limits to students during the shutdown, so Barbercheck decided to continue the project in his backyard. After speaking with some students’ parents and ensuring COVID-19 protocols were being followed, small groups of students and Barbercheck continued the project in the open air of his own backyard, which is located close to the school.

By the time the new school year came around, the mobile sauna had been returned to school grounds and, as classes began, everyone was looking forward to continuing the project with much more momentum. However, due to scheduling and pandemic-related issues, enrollment was extremely low; at some times, only one or two students worked on the sauna.

“In a way, this may have been more efficient,” Barbercheck said. “Once we started the interior, it was discovered that space would quickly get crowded, and with social distancing we were even more constrained. So, while we may not have been able to get as many things done at once by not having more students, we were able to manage our tasks a bit easier.”

Brandon Skogman, a student at Republic-Michigamme Schools, applies spray foam insulation while helping to make a mobile sauna. The sauna has a changing room and hot room, among other amenities. (Photo courtesy of Republic-Michigamme Schools)

Students even began designing for next year’s project and participated in a nation-wide competition hosted by Building Science Kansas City, Fine Homebuilding and more on wall assembly design. Students analyzed the thermal, air, water and vapor control layers of the sauna wall assembly and researched building products to design the ultimate wall assembly for application.

The sauna is now getting the final touches, and the keys were to be handed to Hawkins at Republic-Michigamme Schools on Friday, making the first time he gets to see the sauna in its completion.

The sauna is complete with a 50-square-foot changing room and hot room; a lightweight, yet waterproof floor assembly; an insulated wall and roof assembly; a USA-made wood-fired sauna stove; all cedar, tongue and groove carsiding interior; and as electrical and water hookups. Also, it’s decorated with miscellaneous, small student shop projects from throughout the year.

People who are interested in sponsoring a similar project may email mbarbercheck@r-mschool.org.


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