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ACE-IT: Teens building for the future

Burley Boys is proud to have supplied wood for students enrolled in a new trades program at West Vancouver Secondary. You can read all about the ACE-IT carpentry program at North Shore News .

ACE-IT: Teens building for the future

Popular trades training credit course equips students with more than carpentry skills


JUNE 7, 2015 01:00 AM

Burley Boys Tree Service, Vancouver, ACE-IT

  • Ace it

The low buzz of a saw in motion cuts loudly through a smattering of portables as pockets of teens stream between the buildings.

Not paying any attention to the noise, they are heading to the cafeteria for lunch.

In the opposite direction, the sound of machinery at work leads to a tall wood structure with a white tent top.

Beside it, bright beige piles of sawdust dot the edge of an outside workspace where 17-year-old Caelan Drayer is crouched over a large log, brushing its exposed ends with white latex paint.

Greg Cormier stands close by. He is wearing Kevlar coveralls and a hard hat, basic safety gear for this kind of work. An old Alaskan chainsaw, the source of the loud buzzing, sits just to the side, now silent.

Littered around him are various-sized logs in different states of milling, and Cormier explains that when the moisture comes out of a log it comes out the ends faster than the centre.

Drying at different rates causes the log to crack. Painting the ends helps prevent the moisture from escaping rapidly and keeps the drying even.

Cormier is a certified Red Seal carpenter (a national trades designation), and worked as a carpenter before earning a master’s degree to become a teacher.

He now heads the ACE-IT carpentry program at West Vancouver Secondary, and says his career has come full circle as he now gets to combine his two passions.

This program is one of many ACE-IT (accelerated credit enrolment in industrial training) programs across the province that came into being about a decade ago.

The program at West Vancouver secondary started just two years ago, and next fall’s enrolment is already full, with a waiting list. Students come from schools across the North Shore, are typically in Grade 11 or 12, and those who complete the program and pass their final exam receive a first-year apprenticeship certification and credit towards their high school graduation.

“It works for so many kids,” explains Cormier, noting the combination of academic credits and apprenticeship training opens options to move on to post-secondary education and be qualified to work at the same time.

Most schools on the North Shore operate on a linear timetable rotating between a Day 1 and a Day 2 designation. ACE-IT students spend one whole day of the two-day rotation in the carpentry program, and the other day in regular academic courses at their home school.

The curriculum is broad and Drayer, who is graduating this year, describes it as learning to build a house from the concrete to the framing and all the fun details in between.

“I enjoyed it and I learned a lot,” he says. “Normally at school you’re just sitting down and writing. Here it’s like, ‘I’m going to build myself a shed,’ and we build it.”

This year, the students have actually built three sheds for “clients,” including a garden shed for Drayer’s parents, and assembled them at the clients’ homes. The class didn’t make a profit on the sales; they just recouped the cost of materials.

Although he has experience in other trades as well, including auto mechanics, Drayer says he is heading to university for computer studies. He enrolled in the carpentry program because it looked interesting and he wanted to try something different.

Cormier isn’t surprised that Drayer isn’t planning on pursuing a career in the carpentry trade yet and maybe never. He describes the wide range of students in the program as “high academic students to students just trying to find themselves,” and says the goal of the program is to open doors and provide options.

About a year ago, the school built a structure to house the program. It looks deceptively small on the outside, but a quick visit inside reveals a large workspace with a concrete floor and one full wall that can be opened to the outside. Mezzanines are loaded with planks and beams, and a drying room at one end has large fans roaring, circulating air around piles of wood.

The main area smells of fir and cedar, and Cormier points out different projects in various stages of completion, including a wall lying flat on the floor, covered in shingles.

His teaching philosophy is “learning through making, and making is thinking,” and he says he is “teaching the curriculum (in which) you have to build things so you can take it all apart then build something else and take that apart.”

Materials are reused as much as possible, including nails. In a second room off the main space, shelves are lined with a vast array of carpentry, building and surveying tools, including a magnet to pick up bent and fallen nails.

“We recycle as much as we can,” notes Cormier.

The room looks like a professional work trailer, but across from the collection of tools is a wall of hooks loaded with knapsacks. School binders and sneakers (with an empty bag of corn nuts crammed into one) are piled fairly neatly on the floor. They are a reminder that the users of these tools are still just teens.

The first project the students complete is making their own toolboxes. All made to the same dimensions out of mahogany plywood, they sit in a row on one long shelf. Some customization is allowed, and “Wyatt’s box” is written in dark marker on the side of the first one. These boxes, as well as a stash of utility boxes and saw horses, were all made by the students using hand tools. In the main part of the course, the students make everything by hand, and are only introduced to power tools toward the end of the program and only for certain projects.

As he tours the structure, Cormier’s passion for the program is evident in the way he talks about it. He says it has evolved beyond what he originally expected.

This year, Cormier connected with two local businesses, Apex Excavating and Burley Boys Tree Service, to get salvaged logs for the students to use with a new classmate of sorts: an Alaskan sawmill. It is a chainsaw with a guide attachment that Cormier admits is a little old, loud and slow.

But when he shows off the work it has done in the outside area, it is clear he enjoys using the borrowed relic.

“When people ask us what we’re building we say ‘We don’t know,’” he reports with a smile. “You start cutting and see what happens.”

He explains that they never know what a log is going to look like inside until they slice it open.

“Like that one there, there are no knots or anything, it’s totally clear,” he reports, pointing to a piece standing upright.

The last one they cut was a piece of fir tree, notes Cormier, pointing it out.

“It was kind of gnarly,” he says, adding they needed some pieces out of it to make a beam. “When I cut it open, it’s probably the most beautiful piece we’ve cut.”

He pulls out his phone like a proud dad, displaying the photo he took of it then moves to show off “something really cool.”

Two smooth pieces sit on top of each other and fit flush. This is called “bookmatching,” and means the two pieces are mirror images of each other, including the shape and colour.

Cormier says cutting open logs is like opening up pages of a book to see what’s inside.

“The first log we cut was probably the most exciting because you cut the first one off and open it up. (It’s) the first page of a book.”

This year, the carpentry program is trying to raise enough money to purchase an electric-powered band sawmill that will be easier, faster, safer, more efficient, and can cut bigger logs.

Fundraising would also go toward the purchase of a trailer to haul logs to the school site, and also a forklift to move logs and projects around. The students would then be certified to run a forklift as part of their training. Anyone interested in finding out how to donate or help with fundraising can contact Cormier at

Contact Rosalind Duane at

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