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Marianas Variety: NMC students draw up plans for affordable, sustainable container homes (February 5, 2019)

THIS week, Northern Marianas College Fall 2018 semester is finally drawing to a close for students taking PM classes. For many, finishing the semester was an accomplishment achieved in spite of the far-reaching disruption caused by Typhoon Yutu. But for the students enrolled in Introduction to Project Management, the CNMI’s storm of the century actually inspired their final project.

Instructor Art de Oro challenged his fourth-years to break into three groups, each creating a real estate development company that would “design, build and sell sustainable, affordable housing using one 40-foot shipping container,” and “supplies, materials, and contractors that are in the CNMI.”

“More than ever, this kind of project can have an impact not only on the economy but on the people of the CNMI,” de Oro told his class. “Because people are looking for contractors. They’re looking for ways to build their homes. And what better way than using the materials that we already have here on the island and just being more resourceful?”

The container homes were meant to be for a young family of three whose dual-income amounted to $45,000. The homes needed to be fully-insulated and energy-efficient, with one bedroom, one bath, one small kitchen and living room, a covered parking area, and an outdoor kitchen.

De Oro recommended that students make their container homes sustainable and affordable through using recycled, upcycled, and repurposed items. They were challenged to “be unique, bold, and ever-mindful of the high cost of transportation, materials, and supplies, and the low wages that are prevalent in the CNMI.”

They were also required to find real-world costs for all aspects of the project by researching rates for container transportation, site preparation, and installation; labor and material costs; and permitting fees.

Once they arrived at a price, students were then tasked with providing their potential customers with a realistic path to procuring the funds for the home. For this information, they spoke to realtors, banks, and real estate development companies.

“This is excellent, especially for a group of business students,” said Vince Merfalen, an engineer of 23 years who judged the students’ presentations. “Project management is not a common area of study, but it’s becoming more and more important… to be able to break any project down to its little tasks and then plan it out through project management, it just increases our chances for success.”

The three “companies” — Coconut Construction, Island Vibes, and Foresight — pitched their final product in presentations complete with physical or 3D computer models.

“We’re called Foresight because we see into the future,” said one student at the opening of his presentation. “And because we all wear glasses.”

The homes ranged from around $30,000 to $50,000. Each group had different ideas for how to cut costs, including installing water catchment systems and using furniture built from repurposed pallets. Island Vibes built a to-scale model of their container home with a removable roof and a miniature golf cart parked in the driveway.

“It took time for us to decide which route we wanted to go with and what materials,” said Adrian Pangelinan of Coconut Construction. “The craziest thing I learned about the process was the amount of work that has to be done before any building can be done on the property. The permitting process and all that — just the amount of calling, talking to this person and the other person… sometimes you have to do an interview which leads to a second interview, and then you have to complete an application. That was eye-opening to our group.”

“Hopefully in the near future, we can kind of find a way [to resolve the housing crisis] that would help not only us but everybody that is currently going through that situation right now,” Pangelinan said.

“I see all these containers stacked up by the beach and I’m thinking, ‘This is a really good alternative kind of housing that’s being utilized all around the world, and we have it all right here.’” de Oro told Variety.

“You can move into a container home and it won’t cost that much — we saw the prices below $50,000,” he continued. “A family of three can be moved into a home within six months. So it’s an affordable, sustainable alternative for meeting the housing crisis. That’s what this project is all about.”

“They’re seniors ready to graduate. To try to solve a problem within the CNMI while they’re in class gives them a great look at the future and what their role can be. At the college, that’s our job, to prepare the next set of leaders and managers and entrepreneurs. So maybe this could bring out somebody, one of these students to start a company and start doing this as a business.”.

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