Franklin - At first glance, Nikki Turowski doesn't look like a construction worker, let alone a foreman.
The Franklin High School senior, though, knows her way around a build site and at least has the chutzpah to command the attention of her all-male counterparts when necessary.
That's the assessment of construction class teacher Brian Debelak, as he observed the crew last week while they were preparing to put the finishing touches on new dugouts for the Little League field on 76th Street just south of Drexel Avenue.
"She can be tough when she wants to," Debelak said. "She has been a foreman on this project."
Debelak and his students were part of the community project that brought together the high school, local scouts, home improvement retailer Lowes and a local alderman who owns a remodeling business.
The dugout project is just one of several on-site classrooms that are part of the construction class, Debelak said. The class will also build sheds and remodel a basement during the winter months.
"You can only do so much in a classroom," Debelak said. "The only way to get a real-world experience is to go into the field. If you don't do the job right the first time in the real world, you can't just say I'll try to do better next time. It means you need to do it over."
On the more positive side, Debelak said on-site learning provides students the opportunity to handle a variety tools.
"Whether it's an air compressor or other type of machinery, the students can get a feel for what it takes," he said.
Debelak knows what it takes. While he has taught construction in Franklin for two years and another eight years teaching in Bay View, he has more than two decades of experience in operating his own remodeling company.
Breaking a stereotype
Given his background, he also knows what something seems right. He has been impressed with Turowski's interest in the construction field and being able to handle being the only female crew member. "She's tough."
Turowski said her dad, an office professional, would come home and do various remodeling projects.
Along with that influence, she said she has never been the type to sit still for long. Besides construction, she also is involved in competitive swimming, diving, softball and track, not to mention managing wrestling and following an interest in riding horses.
"What I like about construction is that you are working with a group of people," Turowski said. "You get a feeling of accomplishment."
She plans to pursue a degree in some construction field at either the University of Wisconsin-Stout or North Dakota State University.
Fellow student Brandon Orth - who shared foreman responsibilities on the dugout project and also plans to pursue post-secondary studies in construction management, civil engineering or architecture - said the field work has been a productive part of his education.
"You really get to learn a lot, even though you may be working out in some bad weather," Orth said. "It's part of the job. I also like that we are doing something for the community."
The community agrees.
City Alderman Ken Skowronski who owns KS Remodelers, helped students pull permits for the project.
"I'm always glad to help," Skowronski said. "It can be confusing to go through the process. It's for a good cause."
Tom Geil, immediate past president of the Franklin Little League, credited support from Lowes, the construction class and local scouts, who all pitched in financial and hands-on support.
"It's always great to see various parts of the community come together," Geil said. "The dugouts needed to be done, and some of those students actually played on that field."
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