When we started the masonry program at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College (WITC), Rice Lake, I relied on my own training from Hennepin Technical College, Glen Prairie, Minn., and my 14 years as a full-time bricklayer in Minneapolis,” remembered instructor Todd A. Larson. For 14 more years, Larson has been growing the masonry program that exclusively serves 11 counties in Northwest Wisconsin.
Larson, with the assistance of WITC and the Brick Distributors of Wisconsin, started the first one-year masonry program in Wisconsin in 1993. In receiving state approval, the WITC program established the foundation for the development of similar programs at two other technical colleges in Wisconsin.
Basics to building
The one-year program allocates 20 hours each week to laboratory work. The first quarter is devoted to the basics – tool usage, mortar mixing, and block laying.
“We start with blocks because they are easier to lay,” said Larson. “I call it ‘Block Laying Boot Camp.' The students learn that they have to work hard and fast, but it gives them an immediate sense of accomplishment. Over the years, we have built seven block foundations at Habitat for Humanity homes.”
Quarter two is brick work. “We start with a series of graded projects,” explained Larson. “At this stage, we are pushing for perfection. Speed comes later. We teach the manufacturing of block and brick in the second quarter. Students also get some math, communications, and blueprint reading.”
Quarter three is devoted to estimating and advanced bricklaying, which includes decorative work, veneer, arches, cavity walls, fireplaces, and some landscaping applications. Quarter four is the much-anticipated, instructor-led internship.
“The work is usually a not-for-profit project,” continued Larson. “We treat it as a real jobsite, with seven-hour work days and time cards. We have done school concession stands, basements, and our own 55-ft x 75-ft masonry shop on campus.
“We never lack for work. My challenge is to match the project to our ability to complete the job with the 14 to 16 students I typically have. The program has such a good reputation that some projects may have to wait until the next year.”
The school also has a two-year Wood Technics (carpentry) program that builds a house every year. Larson's students have the opportunity to do the brick and stone work for the home.