April 2, 2007 Program Summary
Summary by Adele Sommers

The 2006 PolyHouse Project:
Restoring Hope to a Three-Generation Family

Our April 2nd event was another joint meeting with the San Luis Obispo region of the Project Management Institute (PMI) at which we saw and heard a second thrilling chapter of the inspiring annual PolyHouse story.

Dr. Roya JavadpourDr. Roya Javadpour, a professor of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering at California Polytechnic University (Cal Poly) at San Luis Obispo, and her business and industrial engineering students don't look like construction experts — and they're not.

Yet they're the protagonists in an extraordinarily heartwarming annual undertaking that makes most "extreme home make-over" television shows look amateurish.

Speaker Roya Javadpour, members of the student team, and the homeownerThe service project the students chose to complete in the spring quarter of 2006 provided a new start, in 10 short weeks, to a disabled grandmother, mother, and daughter whose situation prevented them from making many of the necessary changes to their home (shown in its "before" state in the photo at left).

The mother was struggling with both physical disabilities and chronic depression that stemmed from a work-related accident some years ago. She has had back surgeries and severe nerve damage in her legs, which left her in constant pain. The mother is the primary caregiver of her frail and blind 75-year-old mother, as well as her mentally and physically handicapped daughter who lives in the home with them.

The 2006 PolyHouse Project goal was to improve the safety and comfort of their home and complete other household projects that would otherwise go undone, bringing hope for a more comfortable life to the family.

Similar to the 2005 PolyHouse event, Roya's presentation riveted the attendees. This was another heartwarming tale of how the class presented a completely renovated home back to a family that otherwise would not have had the means to manage the necessary improvements. The lessons in project management planning, preparation, and execution could apply to many technical and creative disciplines.

Learn the details and see the photo gallery, below!

When Dr. Javadpour redesigned her graduate project management course in 2004 to serve disadvantaged county residents, she and her students soon began "a journey filled with trials and triumphs far grander than they could imagine."

Each year since then, students in this course have gained project management skills by planning and completing a home renovation. They raise funds and solicit in-kind donations of tools, building supplies, materials, furnishings, and advice from the community, which allows many others to contribute to the undertaking.

"Before and After" Views from the 2006 PolyHouse Project - Exterior

Photo of exterior, before renovation
Photo of exterior, after renovation

How Does the Program Work?

Since its inception, the PolyHouse program has sought a very rare kind of client for each spring quarter project. It must be a person, family, or group that owns a home but is not financially or physically able to maintain it, due to illness, disabilities, or some other circumstances. Projects that cannot be considered, for example, include homes rented out by absentee landlords, or any structure beset by problems such as mold that cannot be resolved easily and would pose health risks to students.

Student adding a wallBefore each spring quarter starts, Roya contacts many local social service agencies in a quest for potential clients. Of the very few candidates capable of meeting the eligibility criteria, only one or two typically weigh in as finalists in the search, especially when the "do-ability criteria" are considered:

Too difficult of a project cannot be completed in the allocated timeframe.

Too simple of a project will not challenge the students' planning skills.

Opened up floor planOnce the finalists emerge, Roya tours the homes with the assistance of a licensed contractor to determine which ones are eligible. The homeowner(s) must also agree to the project and must be willing to stay completely off-site during the two-week reconstruction period.

When the quarter begins, Roya has the students make the final decision (if there is more than one option) using the fact-finding information she has collected.

This 2006 project involved the following challenges:

  • An older home built in the early 1900s with many outdated features and building code deficiencies.
  • Extensive termite damage in various areas.
  • Opened up floor planA sinking foundation, which was reflected in a 5-inch difference in height between the front and the back of the home. (This thorny problem was remedied by a local foundation company that generously donated the labor and materials to correct it before the student work proceeded.)
  • An ancient, unsafe electrical system that needed complete replacement.
  • Deteriorated main water pipes and broken water valves.
  • A floor plan with tiny bedrooms that did not accommodate the residents.
  • Rotted porches, stairs, and ramps that were unsafe and accident-prone.

A Look at the Expectations

To successfully plan the project, students must:

  • Students replacing damaged exterior wallsOrganize themselves into teams for project planning, fundraising, scheduling, safety, risk assessment, demolition, drywall, construction, painting, window installation, flooring, landscaping, and more.
  • Solicit all cash and other donations for the project after the course begins (donations in 2006 were valued at $50,000).
  • Assess the cost and time tradeoffs of completely transforming a badly neglected home in just a few weeks.
  • Create a work breakdown structure and prepare a variety of project plans and schedules.
  • Create contingency plans in case funding or other constraints prevent them from carrying out all of the goals on their wish list.
  • Plan all equipment and tools to be used, even down to the brand name. Students can sometimes borrow tools, but must buy or rent others. They also must obtain all needed building permits and schedule inspections.

Students installing new beams where walls once stoodAlthough the students ultimately choose the size and scope of the project, the main criteria are that the students:

  • Must finish what they start, given that significant fine-tuning may occur during the six-week planning process.
  • Must end the project with high morale, setting the tone for the teamwork, precise communication, and coordination they will need throughout the project.

Further, the home renovation project is only part of the course -- students also must master project management theory, practice, and techniques; take regular exams; evaluate each other at the end; and provide a personal reflection essay.

"Before and After" Views from the 2006 PolyHouse Project - Kitchen

Photo of kitchen, before renovation
Photo of kitchen, after renovation

How Do the Students Carry Out the Project?

At the end of six-week planning phase, the students make a final assessment of whether they can proceed with everything they had hoped to accomplish, and adjust accordingly.

Student cutting through wallSince they have only four actual work days (two long weekends) to do all of the work, they prepare to execute every action precisely accordingly to plan. This is especially important for major tasks such as replacing a roof (as in the 2005 project), or moving load-bearing interior walls (as in the 2006 project).

Since the students are largely untrained in many of the skills required, they must find someone to tutor and guide them on-site, or train themselves. For example, they might use "how-to" videos to teach themselves how to tile a bathroom, Roya explained.

With the 2006 project, the students completed the following changes:

  • Updated the kitchen and bathroom to make them more serviceable and accessible.
  • Repaired the termite damage as much as possible by cutting out large sections of exterior walls, replacing the walls and siding with new materials, and then re-siding and repainting the rest of the exterior.
  • Student replacing electrical systemReplaced the electrical system that was extremely unsafe and fire-prone, beginning with the attic and service panels.
  • Dug trenches to replace water pipes and broken water valves.
  • Revised the interior floor plan by moving load-bearing walls to enlarge the tiny rooms; repainted the interior walls and installed new flooring
  • Completely replaced the rotted porches, stairs, and ramps that were unsafe and accident-prone.
  • Resurfaced the outdoor walkways to be safer for walking, and installed new plants and a sod lawn.
  • Added homey decorative touches, including crown molding and a wall mural.

Hand-painted mural in front entryDespite the long and grueling hours, where teams typically remain on the site from very early in the morning to late at night during their four work days, Roya asks them to provide daily status reports at the end of each work day.

Although Roya herself does not perform physical work on the project, she is usually on-site every hour that the students are there, providing moral support, guidance, and supervision.

And although very few of her students are previously trained for the specializations required for these projects including demolition, electrical, roofing, flooring, and landscaping — they seem to outdo themselves with every new project, and several veterans from past projects typically request to volunteer again.

In conclusion, the PolyHouse program provides an unparalleled learn-by-doing experience that gives students enormous confidence and skill. I had the privilege of visiting the 2006 project during a pouring rainstorm as it was nearing completion, and was utterly inspired watching the dedicated crew put the final touches on yet another miraculous transformation.

To Learn More About the PolyHouse Project...

Photographs provided by the PolyHouse Web site

The 2006 PolyHouse Project:
Restoring Hope to a Three-Generation Family
Date: Monday evening, April 2, 2007

Dr. Roya Javadpour, professor of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering at Cal Poly. Originally from Iran, Dr. Javadpour traveled to the U.S. in 1994 to earn two master's degrees and a doctorate in industrial engineering at Louisiana State University. Before coming to Cal Poly in 2003, she was a supply chain management consultant at i2 Technologies. She also mentors students in community service projects as an advisor for honor societies Alpha Pi Mu and Mortar Board. Roya was also one of twenty people recently honored for their community service in the 2006 Top 20 Under 40 contest sponsored by the San Luis Obispo Tribune.


“The 2006 PolyHouse Project: Restoring Hope to a Three-Generation Family continued the story that began a few years ago when Professor Roya Javadpour redesigned a Cal Poly graduate project management course to serve disadvantaged individuals.

In this course, students gain project management skills by planning and completing a home renovation for someone in need, enlisting funds and in-kind donations from the community. The course content follows the project life cycle from start to finish. The service project the students chose to complete in the spring quarter of 2006 gave a new start to three generations of disabled residents.


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