BEMIDJI, Minn. — In the market for a new, cozy, sustainable and mobile place to live?
The Bemidji State University Technology, Art and Design department might have just the right thing.
Bemidji State students have worked on planning, designing and building a green and stylish 206 square-foot tiny house since 2017. Most of the actual construction took place in 2018, but the project was held up for a bit due to the pandemic.
But is now the pint-sized abode is complete and ready for residents. It will be up for auction to be bid on by the public in August. Funds from its sale will go toward an endowment scholarship fund.
The tiny house includes energy-efficient windows and structurally insulated panels that will reduce utility bills as well as rooftop solar panels for off-the-grid living. It can, however, be connected to grid power when needed.
It has a full-sized mattress, as well as a sleeper sofa. The kitchen has full-sized cabinets, a full-sized fridge, a three burner stove and an oven.
The project started in the fall of 2016 when School of Technology, Art and Design students taking classes with professors Dave Towley and Tim Brockman were tasked with developing design concepts for a tiny house.
Design concepts for the house were produced by students in Sachel Josefson’s Building Systems course, and the project was coordinated by Towley’s applied project management students.
The construction was done by students in a built environment course under Brockman's guidance. The course focuses on the technology used to create a man-made environment.
“It was a student idea,” Brockman explained. “In one of my classes, one of the local churches reached out to us and said they needed a playhouse built. They would buy all the materials, and we could help with the design and the building. We took it on as a community service project.
"When the students were building this small playhouse — which was very cute with a front porch, railing and shutters — they said, ‘Brockman, Why don't we just build a tiny house?’ That got them excited about the possibility of designing it. We worked with the students to reach out to other areas of the design students and faculty. That got the project going. Then, it was the willingness of the department and the university to say, ‘we'll provide the initial $25,000 to do the project.’”
The house was almost entirely student-designed and constructed, which served as a great learning opportunity for them.
“The principal benefit is the student's education, the secondary benefit is to fund scholarships,” Towley said of the project. “If you go on (the Bemidji State website) and look at the virtual renderings, they're very close to what we actually built. There are subtle differences, but this is by and large what they designed.
"They learned about spatial references. They actually laid the footprints of the chassis which is underneath here, on the floor in Bridgeman Hall with masking tape. Then they used different cardboard cutouts and whatnot to try and get an idea of spatial relationships in a relatively confined space. From that point on, then they went to the design phase.”
Aside from obvious construction and design skills, students learned a lot about the highs and lows of real-world construction. Dealing with deadlines, budget constraints, and other people.
“Students experienced a lot of frustration and a lot of overcoming that with problem-solving. That's the reality of life as we know it today; corporate America expects you to be a problem solver," Brockman said. "Communication is important. Communication, and problem-solving can keep frustration at bay. And it was a hard lesson for some of our students to learn.”
Brockman said that the best outcome was seeing what a successful learning platform the project was for the students as well as faculty.
"It allowed them to have real-life experience,” he continued. “It's one thing to talk about managing a build, it's another thing when you see how at times dysfunctional it can be. Those are experiences that are extremely valuable because when you go into the industry, you'll know what to expect.”
Going forward, both Brockman and Towley said reflecting on a successful project, they would like to do something like this again.
“Now that we've seen the light at the end of the tunnel, it was certainly worth the time. Students really enjoyed it and learned a great deal from it,” Towley said.
Brockman said he doesn’t see the potential for this to become an annual project, but said he hopes he and his students can work on more multidisciplinary projects in the future.
“I do see the potential for the department coming together and doing projects,” he said. “I think with the outcome of this, we see the benefits of these multi-discipline projects that extend a year, maybe two years. Whether it be a tiny house or a project is as interesting as the TAD talks, is for the future to decide.”
Big auction for little house
The tiny house will be offered for sale to the public using a sealed bid process starting at $50,000, which will cover the university’s $25,000 of direct expenses and $43,000 of in-kind donations. All bids must include $5,000 in earnest funds and will be accepted on a rolling basis beginning Aug. 9 with the highest bids posted at www.TADTinyHouse.com every Friday. The winning bid will be announced on Aug. 24.