Building Education Center Provides Hands-On Experience, By: Riya Bhattacharjee

Friday March 17, 2006

On a balmy Saturday morning, a doctor, a lawyer, a software engineer, and a smattering of others gathered in a room in West Berkeley to learn how to install windows, doors, and skylights. 

It’s not a career change this motley group of 12 was after—it was home improvement. 

For those who want to learn how to replace a room full of old, drafty windows or make a dull breakfast nook look cozy again, there’s help in the form of the Building Education Center. 

Founded in 1992 after its predecessor organization, the Owner Builder Center, went out of business, BEC helps people build, remodel, and maintain their own homes. 

According to Sidney Adams, the program’s director, BEC is strictly an educational organization. 

“Our courses cover everything from building from the ground up to being an educated, informed consumer,” she said. “We have been seeing more students who are interested in being trained for the professional trades, but we primarily cater to your ‘average’ homeowner type.” 

The classes are open to anyone with or without prior knowledge in building construction and the instructors are all professionals in their fields. 

“We have architects, attorneys, authors, builders, contractors, designers, engineers, inspectors, project managers and many others taking classes throughout the week.” Adams said. “We get most of our instructors through word-of-mouth referrals.” 

Glenn Kittsenberger has been teaching at BEC for 20 years. He has more than 30 years of experience in the building profession. 

“My classes help students to go out and build their own homes,” he said. “Sometimes it helps them to supervise construction. I try and keep it as simple as possible. For example, I would illustrate a three-way switch with the help of charts.” 

Kittsenberger even provides students with an hour’s worth of free consultation time after classes. 

“I use handouts, slide projectors, and a lot of hands-on training to make them understand the nuts and bolts of building,” he said. “Sometimes the students call me when they are actually trying to build something.” 

Among the more popular classes that Kittsenberger teaches at BEC is the Homeowner’s Essential Course. 

Joe Rickson, a computer engineer from San Jose, praised the class. 

“This is my fourth class at BEC and I must say it’s helping me remodel my house in a big way,” he said. “I have replaced older windows from the 1940s and have also learned carpentry framing and basic electrical theory.” 

BEC also covers issues such as flood damage control and earthquake retrofitting, which are helpful to those owning homes in the Bay Area.  

Sharon Maldonado is a retired school teacher who lives near Monterey Market. 

“I wanted to learn how to use power tools safely and effectively,” she said. “BEC helped me to do that. They make beginners feel very comfortable.” 

Apartment Management for Women is a course aimed at helping women gain independence and security. According to its instructor Naomi Friedman, it’s not easy work. 

“It requires you to have good people skills and being on call, sometimes 24/7,” she said. “It teaches you the basics of plumbing, electrical, locks, tenant relations, emergency preparedness, scheduling and working with contractors. My one requirement is that students must be on time.” 

Rebecca Herman, a Berkeley homeowner, said Friedman knows her subject. “She is really smart and very supportive,” Herman said. “The course made me more confident about basic electrical and plumbing stuff.” 

Specialized classes like Feng Shui, Green Building, Architectural Model Making and sketching attract a lot of people.  

“Everyone wants more hands-on workshops,” Adams, the director, said. “Thus they are very popular and fill up as we do limit the enrollment somewhat on these. The Homeowners Essential Course is the most comprehensive overview we offer and the Summer Intensive are especially good for people who are from out of the area or want to get a lot of information in a short amount of time.” 

Adams said the classes How to get Your Permit Approved, Plan Reading and Finding and Assessing Fixer Uppers are the most popular three-hour short classes. Owner Contracting, Earthquake Retrofitting and Kitchen Design are the most popular one-day seminars, she said. 


A free lecture, “What You Need to Know Before You Build or Remodel,” will be held at the Building Education Center, 812 Page St., on Saturday, April 8 from 10 a.m.-noon and repeated on Monday, April 10 from 7- 9 p.m.  

For more information on courses see www.bldgeductr.org or call 525-7610.