Rutland Middle School students want to bring little homes to the big city to combat climate change and homelessness.
If they can get the planning commission and Rutland City to alter zoning regulations, eighth-grade math students in Pati Beaumont’s RMS class will continue designing their own tiny house for construction by Stafford Tech’s construction camp.
Laura MacLachlan, energy educator at Vermont Energy Education Program, said although the program was her idea, she’s learning along with the students as they progress.
“I reached out to their principal of Rutland Middle School, and let her know about some of our projects,” MacLachlan said. “Pati Beaumont reached out to me.”
The students are bouncing back and forth between two models: a “stick-build” home measuring 28-feet by 8-feet by 13.6-feet and a storage-container home measuring 20-feet by 8-feet by 8.6-feet.
“(Stafford) will decide which one they like best and create it for their summer home,” said eighth-grader Josephina Muro.
“(Powered by) solar,” Joey Notte said.
Beaumont said after the students work out the designs for their tiny homes on graph paper, an ongoing project as of last Thursday, they’ll create scale models of them out of Popsicle sticks.
“Then (Stafford is) going to build it, and then they’re going to sell it,” said classmate Cheyenne Braley. “And someone’s actually going to buy it and live in it.”
Braley said she very much liked the idea of the storage-container tiny house, because unlike something made of wood, storage containers wouldn’t rot.
“We’re thinking a budget of about $26,000,” Beaumont said. “In the next 3-4 weeks, we’ll look at grants, and find out if the project is viable.”
But Rutland’s zoning ordinances don’t currently allow for the tiny homes to be built: a single bedroom has to be 70 square feet, with an additional 50-square feet for every additional person, according to Rutland City’s zoning ordinances.
The kitchen area must be at least 50 square feet, and every home in Rutland City must be at least 20 feet long.
So, on Jan. 23, Notte, Muro, Stefano Falco and Sammy Doenges went to a Rutland City Planning Commission meeting and presented their idea, which would only come to fruition if Rutland City agreed to change the zoning.
“You know, in New York, how they had those really, really small apartments but a family of 10 lived in them?” Notte asked. “Those were what the zoning laws were made to prevent, but those also restrict tiny houses. Some of (the board) were sympathetic to the issue, but some of them said people would get really mad.”
Notte said it was property values that made the issue contentious, as a tiny house in a neighborhood of larger houses might bring values down.
Falco, also in Ms. Beaumont’s class, said the homes would help cut down on greenhouse gasses and carbon emissions.
“It would also be good for low-income housing,” Notte added.
Rebecca Mattis, chairwoman of the Charter and Ordinance committee on the board of alderman, said that might take some time.
“Especially because there’s ongoing work on the planning commission to update the zoning in the city,” Mattis said. “But I’m excited that the kids are excited about the project itself, and that they’re excited to bring it to city government. Everything is always more complicated than you want it to be. You need to consider fire safety, how many exits, under what circumstances.”
She said, “We want to have rules that are good for everyone.”
If the zoning were augmented and the project could go through, Stafford Tech Construction Technology Program Director Jeff Fowler said they were thinking of making it a part of their construction camp during the summer, a combined educational experience with their electrical and plumbing programs.
“For a storage container, we’d have to recruit the welding program,” Fowler said.
Notte said the class also had the idea to buy the old Linda Lee Dress factory property.
“It’s been vacant,” Notte said. “Take that building down ... and have a tiny house village. Structurally, it’s a beautiful building, but it’s really messed up.”
“If you put them all together, you wouldn’t have people complaining about the size difference,” Muro said. “It would liven up the neighborhood.”
The classes have been taking field trips to LaValley Building Supply, Godnick’s Furniture and Neighborworks Vermont to gather ideas for their potential tiny house.
“Affordable housing is extremely important,” Mattis said. “With tiny houses in particular ... I’ve never seen a tiny house that isn’t beautiful.”