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story.lead_photo.caption Jamie Jones, left, construction technology instructor at Benton High School, gives directions to students Justin Beard, in the doorway, from left, Connor Pinkerton and Carter Wood. The shop class built three vignettes, or small open houses, that will be displayed at the Saline County Courthouse in downtown Benton. - Photo by Mark Buffalo

Two area schools are spreading some holiday cheer this season.

A Benton High School shop class has built three vignettes, or small open houses, to display Christmas scenes at the Saline County Courthouse in Benton, while a class from Bryant High School is constructing a building to serve hot cocoa and cookies and have a place for the “reindeer.”

“The county called us and asked if we would be interested in doing it,” said Jamie Jones, construction technology instructor at Benton High School. “We have done this kind of stuff in the past.

“It just seems like a really good fit for us to be able to do it.”

The class built three buildings in a span of nine weeks.

“They wanted three of them, so I was able to split the group up,” Jones said. “It gave us a whole nine weeks of a job to do.”

Jones said the students were able to finish the project ahead of schedule, wrapping up right before the nine-week break.

“It gave them really good experience in construction and the carpentry trade,” Jones said. “So I just felt like it was just a great fit for them and for us, both to help the courthouse out and help the community out.

“It helps us be a part of the community in that way.”

Ron Hubbard, the construction technology instructor at Bryant High School, said his students seemed to really enjoy the work.

“It is a good break from sitting in the classroom, to get up and swing a hammer,” Hubbard said.

Jones said that, hopefully, the courthouse will call in the future for more things like this.

This isn’t the first time Jones’ and Hubbard’s classes have built one of these small houses.

In May last year, Jones partnered with Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Saline County to build playhouses that were raffled off last November.

Last year, three classes, or about 85 students, were involved in the project.

“We had built a small building for CASA a year ago,” Jones said, “so we knew we wanted it to be in that range.

“We kind of based it on that a little bit.”

He said he and his students spent the first few days coming up with ideas by looking online.

“We looked at different elf houses and things like that that have been built before,” Jones said. “[We] took all that together and kind of made our own thing.”

Jones said that when they started, he had three groups each working on a house.

“There was a lot of competition going on, like who could get the best frame job,” Jones said. “That worked out well, that we were able to do three.

“Because if we just had one to build, we wouldn’t have enough for everybody to do.”

Jones has about 25 students in the class.

“We split up in teams, but there toward the end, we had to switch some people around a little bit, with the roofing, the painting, stuff like that,” Jones said. “It all worked out well because it seemed like good competition.”

For Hubbard, the biggest challenge on the project was not being able to get supplies for a short time because of the hurricanes that affected Houston, Texas. and Miami.

“These are for full-size buildings,” Hubbard said. “We started them, and then the hurricane hit, and I couldn’t get materials for a few weeks.”

The cocoa house is 10 feet wide and 8 feet long and big enough for four people to serve cocoa.

“It also has a real interesting roof that we put on it,” Hubbard said. “It is a steep-pitched roof, with interesting twists and turns, to make it a little different. We haven’t even started to shingle it.” He said that would be done Nov. 6.

Hubbard said the second-year class forged the exterior siding for the houses themselves by cutting down trees at a local construction site.

“They are making their own wood for the exterior,” Hubbard said.

Benton senior Evan Sims said the trim and the roof took about three weeks to build.

“It was definitely the biggest thing we have ever built in this shop,” Sims said.

Benton senior Ryan Hurley, who owns a landscaping business and a pressure-washing business, said the process has really taught him a lot.

“I learned more about framing and electrical work,” he said, “and how to build houses to code and how to put roofing on.”

Hurley said the project represents the high school well.

“It represents the shop class well and the skills that we have learned,” Hurley said. “I’ve been in shop since sophomore year, and I’ve learned a lot from this project.

“It represents the skills that we have learned, not only as individuals but as a team as well.”

Benton junior Rhett Caldwell said the project was just a good experience in general.

“It is like a good entrance, if you want to build houses and stuff,” Caldwell said. “You are instructed pretty well, so it was pretty easy. There is some hard stuff, but as long as you pay attention, it shouldn’t be too difficult.”

Jones said the first six weeks were the busiest time.

“But toward the end, I had to get some other projects going on at the same time, to help [the students] stay busy,” he said.

The class also builds deer stands to sell for the cost of the wood and is working on building a camper.

“It is kind of a new thing that we decided to do, to make something different,” Jones said. “We had a whole lot of scrap wood left over, not only from the houses that we built, but also the deer stands.

“All of this camper here is pretty much [made] out of scrap wood.”

Jones said the county road department will pick up the houses and deliver them to the courthouse.

“They’ve got a forklift; they’ve got big heavy-duty trailers,” Jones said. “After Christmas, they will take them down and store them at some other place in the county, not really sure where.”

Senior Justin Beard said it means a lot for his work to be displayed at the courthouse.

“It shows we have a lot of workmanship and know what we are doing,” he said. “It shows that people our age can do some stuff like that.”

Vicki Hopkins, administration assistant for County Judge Jeff Arey, said the road department will pick up the houses Monday.

“The old houses have died,” Hopkins said, “so we have new homes for them this year.”

The houses will stay on the lawn until early January.

Staff writer Sam Pierce can be reached at (501) 244-4314 or

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