Laying the Framework for Their Future

8 January 2020


This week, we are interrupting our regularly scheduled programming with a welcomed change of pace, rather fitting for the new year. Introducing, Johnson County High School – home to an exceptional technical construction program.

Each year, the students – led by instructor Lee Cole, among others – build a house from start to finish, put it on the market, and then sell it to a lucky homebuyer in the community, using the money to get started on the next house. If you’re still not impressed, check out these photos (also pictured below) of their most recent build. It sold very quickly for over $200,000, which we are not surprised by in the least, as it is absolutely beautiful.


Anyways, enough drooling over the gigantic porch, stunning kitchen, and immaculate wood work – we have a high school to talk about. So, Johnson County High School (JCHS) is located in Mountain City, Tennessee – sitting right on the upper corner of the state – miles from the border of both Virginia and North Carolina. We’re electricity experts, not geography geniuses, so we had to look at a map to figure that one out, but it is indeed true. More importantly, JCHS is home to an extensive Career and Technical Education program, giving students the opportunity to take courses in a variety of fields, including: Agriculture, Automotive Repair, Business and Technology, Construction, Criminal Justice, Culinary Arts, and Health Sciences.

With over 100 students in the program, instructors Lee Cole and Robbie McCulloch have their hands full – leading the construction department at JCHS. Construction Core – a class that teaches students the fundamentals of architecture and construction – prepares students for careers in construction, while enabling them to use tools safely, apply mathematical concepts, interpret drawings, and demonstrate proper measurement skills. While some of the course takes place in a classroom, most of the time is spent learning on-the-job, while building a house.

Other advanced courses are also available, preparing students for a wide range of careers in electrical, plumbing, HVAC, and carpentry industries. To build the house, the entire construction department works together. While some students build the frame, the advanced class will start laying the groundwork for the electronics and begin running power. As the house begins to take shape, Lee continues to teach new lessons. From code rules to how to lay out a room to central heating, cooling, and plumbing, he’s covering it all. Since the program’s inception, the students have collectively built 7 homes.

While the students are responsible for all of the work, Lee will jump in frequently to help troubleshoot issues. “I didn’t wire the house,” he explains, “so I have to get in their mind to figure out the problem.” Luckily, Lee’s job just got a little easier, as he, along with the rest of the construction department, are now proud owners of four insulation testers, as well as an MTR105, Megger’s newest motor tester.

Shortly after reaching out to David Danner, director of U.S. distribution, in the early fall, Lee received the units, as well as educational materials for his classroom, including: Getting Down to Earth and A Stitch in Time – Megger’s ground and insulation testing guide booklets. Hoping to place a large emphasis on motor testing in the upcoming year, Lee also received various Megger Baker motor testing posters to hang up in his classroom.

Immediately after receiving the instruments, Lee put one of the MIT200 insulation testers to the test in front of his class. Frustrated by a breaker that was tripping, he had a feeling it was due to a staple that had been driven through a wire in the wall. Sure enough, the unit instantly identified the short – impressing not only his class, but also his coworker Robbie who had never used a Megger tester before.

Although mistakes are not encouraged, per se, the classroom (and job site) is the perfect place to mess up, as long as no one gets hurt. With a leading emphasis on safety, Lee creates a learning experience from every mistake – encouraging his students to identify what went wrong, brainstorm a new solution, or create a new use for a material that may have been otherwise deemed unusable. If students accidentally cut a wire or a piece of wood too short, Lee boosts, “think about it, look it up, and take a walk around the shop first” – there’s always a solution, or at the very least, a learning opportunity.

In the spirit of learning, Lee plans to nick a wire or two, on purpose, and have the students investigate and identify the continuity problem, using the insulation testers. He has big plans for the MTR105, as well. With motors from a local repair shop, students can use the motor tester to identify various winding and insulation issues, while gaining an overall understanding of motors and motor testing. As preventative motor maintenance becomes increasingly more important among industrial applications, these students will be more ready than ever to kick-off their careers – equipped with a level of motor testing knowledge not available to most high school students.

With generous donations from various local businesses and partnerships, the construction department at Johnson County High School continues to thrive – preparing hundreds of young students for a successful career in various trades. “Tell whoever you need to tell,” Lee exclaims, “[These Megger units] have been used, they’ll get used, and they’ll continue to be used. Megger is great to the community, and I always recommend [these products].”

As if building a house was not enough, the students also participate in “Battle of the Build”, a local competition where participating area high schools compete against each other – building a creation of their choice, as long as it fits in a 6 ft x 6 ft x 8 ft cube. With endless possibilities and a heap of donations in-hand, Johnson County High School’s team built a pergola for last year’s (first-ever) competition. Unfortunately, plagued by a late start, they were unable to compete, but they took pride in their work, nonetheless, and had a great time building.

After last year’s defeat, they are prepped to compete in this year’s contest. Official judging takes place in late February at the annual Home & Outdoor Show, sponsored by the Johnson City Area Home Builders Association. With a sponsor on their side, competitive spirits roaring, and the right equipment in-hand, the students of JCHS are up for the challenge – not only as competitors, but also as future technical professionals. Backed by foundational technical training, as well as the confidence and skill that comes with building a house by themselves, students of Johnson County High School’s construction program are ready to break-ground in industry too after graduation.