Students build cabin for W.Va. campground

In this Tuesday, May 7, 2019, photo, Summersville mayor Robert Shafer, speaks during the unveiling of a new cabin at Mountain Lake Campground and Cabins in Summersville, W.Va. Nicholas County vocational-technical students have built the cabin at the Mountain Lake Campground and Cabins next to Summersville Lake. (Rick Barbero/The Register-Herald via AP)

By MATT COMBS, The Register-Herald
Last Tuesday, ESCAR Construction was the most popular construction company in Nicholas County.
The company completed a cabin project at the Mountain Lake Campground and Cabins next to Summersville Lake in April, but it wasn’t until Tuesday, during National Travel and Tourism Week, that the public got its first view.
While construction projects aren’t normally celebrated, especially a campground cabin, Tuesday’s event drew dignitaries from throughout the county and some from Charleston.
They were there to celebrate ESCAR Construction, not because of a top-notch job, but because of who they are.
ESCAR is an acronym for Eat, Sleep, Construction and Repeat, and the company is made up entirely of students from the Nicholas County Vocation and Technical School.
The cabin was the first of seven that the students worked on as a public-private partnership between the school system and the campground. The project lasted from October through early April.
According to Mark O’Dell, a carpentry instructor at the vocational school and the project facilitator, the project is part of the school’s Simulated Workplace Program. The students not only provide the physical construction labor but also served as project managers, safety managers and quality control managers.
O’Dell said the project allows students to learn leadership communication, multiple roles and gives them hands-on, real-world experience, which is necessary for construction trades.
“Oftentimes we learn better from our mistakes than if we’re doing everything absolutely right,” O’Dell said. “It’s a great project for us. Project-based learning, especially in a career and technical environment, is an absolute must.”
O’Dell said that because of the cabin’s size, the students weren’t bogged down for months learning one particular aspect of construction. Instead, they got a well-rounded tour through nearly all of the construction trades.
The minimal size of the cabins also meant that the students could work on the project indoors at their shop without having to spend time and energy traveling to a work site.
According to O’Dell, it was the partnership with the campground, owned by Shawn and Susan James, which made the project a success. While the school provided the expertise and the labor, the James acquired the materials for the students.
“They just did phenomenal,” Susan said of the students’ work.
She said her family thinks the cabin projects are a win-win situation — promoting tourism in the region and educating students for the future.
“We already have a waiting list,” Susan said of reservations for the recently completed cabin.
She said the project is meaningful to the students, as they begin with raw materials and end with a finished product. The campground owner said the project also allows the students to learn about tourism, which she believes is the future of the state.
O’Dell agreed that students who go to work in the trade will most likely complete projects dealing with tourism. He said completing the project locally makes it even more meaningful for the students.
“They know they’re going to see it again and that the public is going to see it again,” O’Dell said. “For years to come, this cabin is going to be here.”
A large portion of those who use the cabin in the future will be visitors to the Summersville area.
According to Marianne Taylor, the executive director of the Summersville Convention and Visitors Bureau, tourism in Nicholas County is a major contributor to the economy. Taylor said that in 2018, tourism was responsible for 550 jobs and approximately $54 million in direct spending.
Summersville Mayor Robert Shafer said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates that Summersville Lake gets a million visitors a year with the cabin located near the lake.
Shafer praised the partnership between the school system and privately-owned campground, along with the student’s efforts and talent.
“Right here is what everything we do is about,” the mayor said. “This is our future. Our youth is our future.”