Albany Options

Albany Options students pose with a castle playhouse they built during a woodshop class. On top from left, Corey Houser, 17, Cary Olson, 17, and Angelica Garza. At bottm are Tiffaney Brown, 18, left, and Debra Leonor, 18. (David Patton/Democrat-Herald)

It was supposed to be a simple playhouse, the kind you could assemble in minutes in someone’s back yard.

But once the students at Albany Options School started designing, they figured, why settle for a house when you can have a castle?

The result: A roughly 120-square-foot, multilevel structure with balconies, battlements and even a dungeon.

Even with a $5,000 grant from Habitat for Humanity International and State Farm Insurance, the money didn’t stretch quite as high as the students’ dreams. They had hoped to add a slide, a rope bridge and a secret door.

But with help from volunteer instructor Josh Mitchell, the adviser for the project, they achieved a few of the smaller goals.

“The ball pit. That was a must,” said Angelica Garza, 17, one of a half-dozen students at the alternative high school to work on the service learning project.

“The tower, also, that was a must,” said Debra Leonor, 18.

Added classmate Corey Houser, 17: “It’s just not a castle without a tower.”

The playhouse was one of just nine projects selected nationwide for the Habitat-State Farm service learning grants.

Students began working on it in October, meeting every Saturday at South Albany High School to build their visions. This week, Habitat representatives are taking the playhouse apart to put it in storage until the weather improves.

The original idea was to auction off the playhouse to help fund the real-scale houses that Habitat builds for people in need. But the Albany project grew so quickly that the plan changed to a straight donation, to Community of Christ Church on 20th Avenue, said Wanda Kinney, executive director for Albany’s Habitat for Humanity.

No one from the church was immediately available to comment on the project. However, Kinney said she believes the church plans to reassemble the structure into a slightly scaled down version, and use it for children to get out of the weather.

AOS students said they’re sorry to see the playhouse go. On the other hand, they won’t miss working outside.

“It was freezing,” Leonor recalled of more than one work day over Christmas break. “We were only able to be out here a couple of hours because it was so cold.”

“We thought it was going to be easy, kinda,” Houser said, “but we had troubles on the way, like mis-cutting and stuff.”

By doing all the work themselves, Mitchell said, students had to draw up blueprints, practice math and measuring, learn to use power tools, and work together to solve problems.

Because the work was on a different campus, they had to set up from scratch every time they started and put everything away when they finished.

“There were a lot of incidentals they weren’t expecting to do,” he said.

But in return, they earned a quarter to a half of an elective credit. They also received career experience, whether they plan to go into construction or not.

“Just this little experience, it made me more thankful, because my dad used to do construction,” Leonor said. “I’m grateful I do have a chance to get an education and I don’t have to be breaking my back.”

Jennifer Moody is the education reporter for the Democrat-Herald. She can be reached at 541-6113 or


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