Students work on fridge  
Tyler Newman (left) and Donovan Hartwell (right)
work on their self-built refrigerator
You can call it a very “cool” idea, but it’s a project that students in Mike Fortunato’s Plumbing/HVAC class do every year as part of Project Based Learning.  Seniors in the class are tasked with building their own refrigerator

According to Mr. Fortunato, not only does the project involve the technical knowledge that students have gained while attending his class at the Charles H. Bohlen, Jr. Technical Center, but it also gives students a glimpse in the business side of the industry. 

“They have to come up with pricing,” he says “They also have to be aware of budgeting and how much to pay employees and what needs to be deducted from a paycheck, such as FICA and other taxes.”

Overall the project creates real world scenarios for students.  The project begins with Mr. Fortunato giving the specs of the refrigerator that is to be produced and allowing the students to do the rest.  The students in the class are then broken down into groups and begin the project. 

One of the groups involved students Alonson Rogers (Senior, South Jefferson), Tyler Newman (Senior, Watertown), Steve Gilmer (Senior, Carthage), and Donovan Hartwell (Adult Education).  The group got together and planned a course of action on how to tackle the project.  The four decided they would try to build the refrigerator from scratch as opposed to working on a pre-built model as some students in the class chose to do.  

“In the planning phases, we determined what each individual would do,” according to Donovan.  “Alsonon and Steve worked on the casing.  Tyler and I worked on the refrigeration components and layouts.  Once the box was completed, we placed the equipment where it needed to go.”

student working on fridge students working on fridge
                                    Alonson Rogers works on the refirgerator                        Alonson and Donovan

Once the construction was completed, the next phase of the project was testing the system to determine if there were any leaks.  The testing is administered by filling the system with nitrogen and then pressure testing it.  The first test of their self-built fridge was not successful.  Following modifications and subsequent tests, the group was finally successful on its fourth attempt.

“It was a very good learning experience,” says Donovan.

The refrigerator built by the four will be completed with the help of other Career and Technical Education classes at the Bohlen Technical Center.  The Auto Body & Repair class will paint it while Visual Communications students will create stickers and decals. Once fully completed, plans are to place the refrigerator on display in the main lobby of the technical center.

The students credit their education in the Plumbing/HVAC class for steering them to their career goal of working in the field.

“I feel confident walking out of BOCES and entering into a HVAC position in the field,” says Donovan.