Alfred State building trades project

Alfred State students work on a new hands-on project involving repurposing shipping containers into either housing or office units.

WELLSVILLE — A new hands-on project at Alfred State College’s Wellsville campus has students really thinking outside the box — the container box.

This semester, students in various majors began working on several shipping containers as part of a “reuse/repurpose/recycle” initiative that incorporates sustainable and green-building practices, said Jack Jones, chair of the Building Trades Department.

The purpose of the project, Jones said, is to determine if shipping containers can be repurposed into high-efficiency housing or office units, and also to provide students with a new form of applied learning.

One of the main goals of this project is to create a zero-energy space, which means it produces at least as much energy as it consumes.

“This project aligns with the governor’s new energy initiatives, which aim to drive New York’s energy consumption to renewable sources,” Jones said. “The home will be outfitted with a powerful photovoltaic system and a solar water heater.”

High-efficiency fixtures and appliances, Jones said, will be used throughout.

“We are designing the home with a battery bank for off-grid operation,” he said. “However, we will also include a utility connection for selling excess power generation and for a back-up power supply.”

With the project being so new and so different from what has been done before, Jones noted, “We’re just trying to learn what works, what doesn’t work, what we can do in the future, and what really doesn’t make sense to do. It’s really a research project on our part to determine whether this is a viable option for housing or not, and whether it fits into our educational program.”

The project involves students in several different majors, including building trades: building construction; heating, ventilation, and air conditioning; and electrical construction and maintenance electrician. Supporters so far include the State University of New York (SUNY), which is funding the project; SUNY Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson; the Educational Foundation of Alfred Inc., which has postponed other construction projects to accommodate this one; and Mach Architecture, which has assisted with the design and engineering of the project.

One of the most appealing aspects of the project, Jones said, is its unconventional nature. While students are still gaining traditional real-world skills working on houses for the Wellsville community, this project gives them a chance to broaden their horizons.

“They get to use tools they wouldn’t normally use, they get to work with materials they wouldn’t normally use,” Jones said. “They’ll be doing a little more welding here than what we usually have in our program, a lot more metal-cutting, and just experiencing a different way that systems go together. This job will be more commercial application, so a lot more metal work, steel studs, that sort of thing. It’s a really good supplement to what we already do.”

Students are understandably very excited about the project.

Nathan Hayes, a building trades: building construction major from Bath, said his favorite part is taking everyday items and repurpose them into something useful.

“It’s something you can look back on and be really proud of your craftsmanship,” he said.

The containers are presently located in the 35,000-square-foot Workforce Development Center, which serves as the home of the building trades: building construction program. Currently, the college has four shipping containers for students to work on, three of which are 20 feet long and one that is 40 feet long.

The end goal for this project, Jones said, is to convert the containers into a new demonstration home and welcome center on the Alfred campus. The project should take one academic year to complete.

“I think it’s a really cool project. It’s something that’s out of the ordinary,” said Jones, who added, “It’s a really good option for us to really just stretch the students and make them think about why systems have to work the way they do.”

Jim Eckstrom is executive editor of the Olean Times Herald and Bradford Publishing Co. His email is