Ethan Libby stands across from the Salem police station under construction on Division Street on July 8, 2019 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)
Ethan Libby was on vacation with his family in Florida when he found out about his summer job.
The Sprague High School student heard his mom having a serious discussion with an assistant principal, James Weber, but couldn’t make out the words.
“(I was) on the edge of my seat for a while,” he said.
When she got off the phone, she told him the good news – he’d landed a coveted internship with national construction firm JE Dunn.
“I was super excited, really stoked,” he said.
Libby is spending the summer helping build what will become a Salem landmark - the city’s new police station, currently under construction at the corner of Division and Commercial streets.
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It’s an extension of the education Libby’s had at the district’s Career Technical Education Center construction program.
“I love working with my hands,” he said. “I’m pretty skilled at it, too.”
JE Dunn and city of Salem staff met with Weber in January about having a construction student intern with them on the project.
The company likes to get involved in communities where they’re building big projects, senior project manager Kyle Boehnlein said.
In Oregon, their interns are typically college students, but Salem police leaders recommended they contact the district’s Career Technical Education Center.
They proposed an internship open to juniors in the construction, manufacturing or business programs, Weber said.
About 15 students applied and interviewed with Weber and JE Dunn, but the final decision was up to the company.
“Ethan stood out in particular in regard to his leadership and humility,” Weber said.
In class, he’s known for helping classmates with the computer-aided design software they use for plans. Weber said his willingness to help without taking credit or having an ego is rare in someone his age.
“That’s a … skill that many times people learn when they’re adults,” he said.
For Libby, it’s an opportunity to see another side of the field he wants to work in.
He grew up playing with Legos and has always enjoyed problem-solving. His dad takes on many projects around the home with help from YouTube tutorials, and Libby has helped him out for years.
He started learning more in middle school shop classes at Judson and especially enjoyed fine woodworking, using a lathe to make small items for around the home.
Ethan Libby checks a gypsum board submittal during his internship at JE Dunn's build of a new Salem police station. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)
Last summer, Libby spent about three weeks working for a general contractor out of Monument, Oregon, where he helped with everything from sanding to site cleanup.
Leaving a minimum wage job making pizza for the full-time paid internship was an easy choice.
He’s now on the third week at JE Dunn with a desk in the project office on the south side of Division Street.
There, he reviews submittals from subcontractors on the project and checks them against the site plans, making sure everything from the interior sheet rocking to the light fixtures is as specified.
“He’s seeing things from the front end,” Boehnlein said.
His high school construction program focuses on residential work, so seeing a commercial project come to life is a new experience. Libby said many of the concepts are the same, but he’s been struck by “how detailed every little aspect of this entire thing is.”
He said he wants to save most of his earnings so he can take a break from working next year and enroll in night classes on building codes at Chemeketa Community College.
Libby also enjoys working on his truck, a 2002 Toyota Tahoma he bought from his dad. He’s planning to lift it a little and add bigger tires – “normal truck stuff,” he said.
Weber said other companies have approached CTEC about internships for students, but this is the first time they’ve placed a high-schooler on a public project.
He hopes Libby’s involvement will become a trend for future Salem construction.
“Let’s get our students on the job sites,” he said.
Reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.