What’s Old is New Again for Central Homebuilders

Students and teacher standing next to playhouses.

Students in the homebuilding class at Central Campus built playhouses, partly from wood from the school’s old natatorium bleachers.

In 1961 Russ Fisher set a school record in the 100-yard breaststroke at Tech High. When Tech closed in 1986 the record still stood. According to two plaques in the Tech Hall of Memories at what’s now Central Campus, it’s the longest-standing boys’ or girls’ Engineer swimming record.

Fisher later taught carpentry at his alma mater and one of his students was Ben Molloy, Tech High Class of ’76. And Molloy, in turn, has taught the Home Building program at Central Campus from its inception more than 30 years ago.

Got it so far? Okay, get out your compass to complete the perfect circle that’s being drawn.

A couple of weeks ago Molloy’s 1st year homebuilders removed the bleachers from what used to be the Tech High natatorium. The old pool survived for many years as part of the CC fitness center but has been filled in. So the bleachers where maybe his girlfriend sat and cheered that day more than half a century ago when Russ Fisher was stroking his way to a record that will never be broken were dismantled by a protégé of “Fish” (that’s got to be what his nickname was, right?). And a new generation of Molloy’s protégés hauled them upstairs to their workshop, plank by plank, to be repurposed.

Some of the wood has already been built into two playhouses that Molloy’s students are putting the finishing touches on before posting them for sale on E-Bay. Proceeds from the sales will go back into the homebuilding program. Plenty remains for other projects and Molloy plans to incorporate much of it into the full-scale house that his 2nd year class is constructing on site at Easter Lake for sale at the end of the year.

“We’ll use the rest for trim on the interior of the house and flooring in the great room and dining room,” Molloy said.

The bleacher reclamation is just Molloy’s latest cost-cutting coup. Besides his carpentry expertise he has also mastered the arts of recycling, repurposing, up-purposing, scavenging, salvage and bean-counting in the never-ending quest to keep his program solvent.

The interior walls of the playhouses used to be whiteboards on classroom walls at Central. A vanity that’s being designed on one of the 5th floor workbenches for eventual installation at the Easter Lake house was a cabinet in a chemistry lab. Old bulletin boards become sanding blocks. When a neighbor of Molloy’s got a new roof she donated the extra shingles to his program. He’s always on the lookout.

“I don’t have any money,” he explained, “so I have no choice.”

He expects the playhouses will be ready for sale just in time to kick off the holiday shopping season. Free delivery in the Des Moines area, incidentally.

Also, the bleacher lumber is Douglas-fir, a popular tannenbaum species, so think of the playhouses as equipped with built-in Christmas trees. And when they’re installed in someone’s backyard (maybe at the home of a Tech High alum?) it won’t be too much of a leap to conjure a swimming pool too, given the backstory.

Ol’ “Fish,” by the way, has retired into the sideline of building custom sets of hickory-shafted golf clubs. If you’re looking for something unique to go with your old pool, look him up.

Photos from Central’s Homebuilding Class

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