Pulling off a grassroots version of This Old House, Lorain County Joint Vocational School students from the building trades gutted, renovated, greened-up and built from scratch a facility for NASA’s Central Operation of Resources for Educators (CORE), the only distribution center of its kind. The landmark 1903 farmhouse on the school’s 135-acre property was reconstructed and repurposed — and expanded with a 40-by-60-foot warehouse that complements the farmhouse architecture. Now, NASA CORE is front and center and getting much-deserved community exposure for its operation.

Since 1987, NASA CORE has been housed in the JVS facility, growing from a single school room with a typewriter to a warehouse stocked with more than 2,000 educational materials, from DVDs to teacher kits with posters of outer space and other materials used in the classroom.

“We are the only NASA CORE in the U.S., so to have it here in Lorain County is really a privilege,” says Renee Elias, director of the program, which utilizes special-needs students from the JVS Job Training class and employs students enrolled in the school’s business academy.

Meanwhile, the project engaged all building-trades students, serving as a hands-on, real-world experience in the JVS’s front yard. Students were exposed to sustainable practices, project budgeting and on-site problem solving.

“We know that businesses will come to areas that have a skilled workforce, and that is our goal: to have the best-trained, highest-skilled workforce right here in Lorain County, and to attract business and industry,” says John Nolan, JVS superintendent.

“Workforce skills are the best renewable resource we have,” he says simply.

The NASA CORE farmhouse project taught students valuable lessons in conservation and collaboration. “It was a real learning process,” confirms Jerry Pavlik, who oversees the building trades academy at the JVS.

A Front Door for NASA CORE

Inside the pristine warehouse attached to the renovated farmhouse structure are aisles of neat shelves that nearly reach the ceiling. The inventory for NASA CORE is vast, allowing teachers all over the country and world to access NASA materials to aid with class projects and lessons. Just last week, the office received a phone call from a teacher in Cambodia requesting materials.

“We are set up to deal with international customers, so it’s a wonderful way for us to connect on a global scale,” Elias says.

NASA CORE is the distribution center and single point of contact for smaller supply centers where teachers can access educational materials. Job Training students assemble teacher guides, activity sets and boxes filled with posters, slides, publications and other resources. As students pack, collate, label and prepare shipments, the learning is two-fold. “They are exposed to wonderful ideas and concepts while they learn skills to go out and get a job,” Elias says.

“This program has a higher purpose for them,” she continues. “These kids are seeing science materials, then they go home and talk about it with their parents. They watch TV and see the news and recognize NASA and other science concepts. They come to school the next day and talk to other kids about what they know.”

At the same time, NASA CORE provides job experience for students in the JVS Business Academy. CDs and DVDs are duplicated. Artwork is created for discs. Orders are taken, catalogues created, promotional materials generated, shipments arranged and confirmed. “We try to cultivate skills students learn in class and also to stretch them beyond that so they can dabble in new areas,” Elias describes.

The resource center is an asset to the school, the county and teachers all over the world — but so many community members are not aware that NASA CORE exists. Now, located right on Rt. 58 in an eye-catching farmhouse on the southwest corner of the JVS property, NASA CORE will gain much-deserved public exposure. “That was one of our main goals,” Nolan says. “They’ve been on site since 1987, and who knew?”

The relationship JVS enjoys with NASA CORE has exceeded the school’s expectations. “It has allowed us to garner some unbelievable internships at NASA Glenn for our pre-engineering students,” Nolan relates. Some 16- and 17-year-olds have had opportunities to work on helicopter bearings that need to withstand the abrasive desert winds of Middle Eastern countries. Others have worked in wind tunnels helping to test airplane part prototypes.

This is the type of good news about local youth that should be front and center, which is exactly what happened when the JVS decided to move the NASA CORE operation from inside the JVS to the farmhouse. “It also gave us an opportunity to really spruce that [house] up and give it purpose,” Nolan says, noting that the home had not been used for several years.

Meanwhile, the JVS can use the space vacated in its main facility to expand other programs. “We call it a domino effect,” Elias says. “Here, we have a better layout, a better plan and we are put up front so we can interact more with the community than in the space we left behind. The JVS was able to move departments around and give programs more space throughout the school. The project has been beneficial to everyone.”

A Lesson in Sustainable Construction

The rehabilitated century-old farmhouse also serves as a model to remind residents of the value of conservation. Aaron Donelan, a 2010 graduate of the JVS Industrial Electricity program, talks about the teamwork required to complete a total tear-down and build a new addition for NASA CORE.

“You have to work together and trust each other,” he says, noting that classroom learning was put into practice at the farmhouse site. There were challenges, such as figuring out how to work together with other trades. Every lab day, students reported to the farmhouse to work, which was no different than any other light commercial construction job.

“We looked at our blueprints and prepared what needed to be done,” says Donelan, who is currently attending Lorain County Community College’s alternative energy and wind turbine program. “I think [alternative energy] will be the next big thing, and it’s starting to take off around here.”

A residential wind turbine positioned next to the farmhouse will offset energy costs from October to April, when weather conditions are conducive to supplying wind energy. The vertical, 3.5-kilowatt turbine was designed and built by Alternative Energy Specialties, a subsidiary of General Plug & Manufacturing in Oberlin. The property will serve as a beta site, and students will help test and record information from monitoring equipment on the turbine.

The JVS plans to add solar panels to the farmhouse roof to capture energy during spring and summer months, when the wind tends to die down. With a wind turbine and solar energy working, “we believe that will eliminate most of our energy needs,” Nolan says.

But that’s also because before installing alternative energy solutions, the students focused on conserving energy by installing LED lighting — the 24 can lights in the office space require as much power as a single 250-watt incandescent bulb, Pavlik says. Four types of insulation were utilized throughout the house: spray foam, spray cellulose, typical batt insulation and blown-in cellulose, which is made from recycled newspapers.

“We wanted to expose the students to different types of insulating methods available today on the market,” Pavlik says.

The original farmhouse portion of the facility is heated with a hot-water boiler, and the warehouse uses forced hot air supplied by a gas well right on the property. “We had a phenomenal gas well that was not being utilized, so we wanted to capture that resource,” Nolan says. “Really, the only utility bills we’ll have are water and the phone.”

Because most of the facility’s energy consumption would occur during summer months when air conditioning is in use, the students installed a down-draft air conditioning system that is located in the second floor above the office. “Because cold air is heavier, you use less energy because you do not have to force it up,” Pavlik explains.

Inside a neat, compact closet on the first floor is a server that houses “miles of wire,” — which Pavlik calls the “brain” of the operation. Nolan pipes in, “How many 107-year-old farmhouses have a tech closet?”

The farmhouse design, which was produced by Clark & Post Architects, keeps with the original farmhouse aesthetic, with a sustainable twist. For instance, the roomy front porch is constructed from wood composite, as are handicap-accessible ramps.

The warehouse addition blends with the farmhouse and provides a 40-foot-by-60-foot space for NASA CORE to store its materials and house its shipping/receiving operation. Even better, the project exemplifies the type of light commercial work Nolan says is more plentiful today in spite of the soft homebuilding market. “We are really teaching a lot of commercial construction skills because that segment is actually moving pretty well right now,” he says.

A Team Effort

Ron Gresco’s students were responsible for more than half of the projects — that’s the way it is with carpentry: first in, last out. “They liked being in on the ground level and being the last ones there to make sure the project got finished,” says the instructor, who oversaw 14 carpentry seniors who focused on the project last year.

The first week of school, students were jolted into reality when they saw piles of lumber stacked on the JVS property, Gresco describes. “A huge amount of material was stacked behind our school,” he says. “We had to determine where each load was going to be used, and they had to plan their project before they tore out [the house] and started working on it.”

Industrial electricity instructor Jan Ramirez called the project “real-world” and notes that “students completely rewired everything.”

Assisting on the project was SM Fox Construction, which worked alongside students and managed some tasks like setting trusses. Students studying various building trades merged on site, working with and around each other. “They had to make on-site decisions, and more important than anything, if there was a problem or mistake, they needed to fix that on site and bring it up to code.”

Nolan says he never heard more enthusiastic compliments from building inspectors than when they toured the farmhouse. “They couldn’t say enough nice things about the quality of the work the students were doing,” he says.

Like any construction project, costs were carefully considered. “We really concentrated on air infiltration and the mechanical systems,” Pavlik says of budget priorities. Students were included in big-picture budget discussions. “We used the funding we had to make decisions that would impact [energy] conservation.”

In every sense, the project provided the students with a comprehensive construction experience — and the resulting facility, a new home for NASA CORE, continues to provide educational opportunities to JVS teens.

"It gives the students a sense of pride and accomplishment," Nolan says. "It gives them something where they can say, ‘I did that.’"

A Look Back

It was a bustling farmhouse back in the day. On site, there was a granary, a barn, separate houses for pigs and chickens, a corn crib and a wood shed. Cows and horses roamed the property.

The 107-year-old Avery farmhouse located on the front lawn of the Lorain County Joint Vocational School (JVS) was built on 135 acres in Pittsfield Township when Route 58 was a dirt road. The living room had a bearskin rug and the parlor was used by special guests. Today, that home is the site of NASA CORE and a grand reconstruction project completed this year by JVS building trade students.

According to research by Tina Salyer, communications coordinator for Lorain County JVS, a deal was struck between the Avery Family and the founding superintendent, Bill Burton, after Cora Avery’s death in 1960. Local lore has it that Burton sat down with Cora’s husband, Clarence Stevens, at Presti’s restaurant in Oberlin. The men scribbled the deal on a napkin and sealed it with a handshake. Construction began on the school in 1969.