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From the ground up

Students in Orleans Technical College’s carpentry course build almost fully functional model homes — and a bigger future.

Building a dream: The eight students from the Orleans Technical College take a well-earned break after they helped build a model home. LOGAN KRUM / TIMES PHOTO

Carpentry is in his blood, but Dominic Bernaudo always put it on the back burner.

His dad and grandfather both worked in the field, but because things were “always kind of rocky” with his dad, he went to college to study something else. He and his friend started a photography business, and when it didn’t pan out, he had no idea what to do next.

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Bernaudo recalled this while sitting in a house with a kitchen he laid out, windows he helped install and framing he helped complete.

“Everybody had the chance to get their hands on everything so we all learned the same thing,” he said.

Bernaudo is one of eight students who built an (almost fully functional) model home in Orleans Technical College. The two-story home has working lights, places to sit and decorations that make it feel like a real home — and it was constructed in just over four months.


Milton Dillard has seen the process of the model home being built many times. The carpentry instructor leads his students on each step, starting with deconstructing the previous class’ project and repurposing some of the old parts in the next. Dillard runs the class like a real construction site — it costs money to build in the real world, he said, so he treats each of his students like they’re really on the field.

Giving a tour of the home, Dillard pointed out that a table was made out of an old cabinet door mounted on a suitcase stand, and closets in the upstairs bedrooms were made from the previous home’s front door. The home also utilized a flat roof like many Philadelphia rowhomes.

Tamika Gary, employment specialist, has also seen the house rise and fall many times. She collects pieces of furniture to decorate the home. The interior design changes between classes. This year’s had a rustic, country feel to it.

Milton Dillard, carpentry instructor, and Tamika Gary, an employment specialist, helped the students finish the project. LOGAN KRUM / TIMES PHOTO

“We introduce some level of design aspect so that it could look more like what an actual homeowner would want,” she said. Orleans hosts a tour for potential employers to walk through and view the students’ work, which Gary said looks more complete once decorated.

The six-month course will start the cycle over again on Monday, Aug. 27, with a new group of students. Orleans also offers courses in building maintenance, beginning Sept. 4, and a plumbing and heating course beginning Sept. 12.

Corey Hepler, another student in the course, is using his experience for a much-needed life upgrade.

The 38-year-old spent the last 15 years working the same job in retail, and decided it was time for a career change. He was sold on the school after taking a tour and seeing the previous class’ model home.

“I like doing stuff with my hands and decided to go back to school to learn something new,” he said.


Before the class was over, Hepler had a job offer from Altman Management Company, which owns apartment complexes in the city and New Jersey. He’ll make repairs when tenants move out.

“I enjoy doing drywalling and patching up things that make people smile when they see it,” he said.

Bernaudo plans to use this experience as a stepping stone to get a job and continue racking up experience. He hopes to start his own business creating custom pieces out of wood, metal or 3D printing material.

“The tagline I might go with is dream big, build bigger,” he said. “Always build bigger and never settle for anything less. Anything you can think of, I want to make.” ••

To learn more about Orleans, visit orleanstech.edu

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