Thomas Buckborough signed up for a two-day class given by John Abrams at Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Warren, Vt. As president and design director at Thomas Buckborough Associates in Acton, Mass., he was looking forward to hearing about some new ideas and initiatives that could help him run his architectural design, build, and remodeling firm.

Abrams is co-founder and CEO at South Mountain Co., a 30-year-old employee-owned green design and building company in Martha's Vineyard, and author of The Company We Keep: Reinventing Small Business for People, Community, and Place.

This artful treehouse on the Yestermorrow campus was designed and built by students of the Vermont design/build school, which focuses on teaching good design and skilled craftsmanship as a single process.
Yestermorrow Design/Build School This artful treehouse on the Yestermorrow campus was designed and built by students of the Vermont design/build school, which focuses on teaching good design and skilled craftsmanship as a single process.

Buckborough paid $300 and dedicated a weekend to the Cathedral Builders course, which covered employee ownership, growth issues, personnel and benefits strategies, community service, and long-term business planning and succession. “I've built my career around the design/build concept, and I've known about the school for about 15 years,” says Buckborough, who sent one of his employees to Yestermorrow to take a class in 2006. “When this business-oriented offering came up, I decided to attend.”

The course attracted a variety of business owners (more than half of whom were remodeling contractors), Buckborough says, and offered some flexibility as to the topics covered, based on attendee interests. “Some of the discussions had a wider focus, but there was enough of a building and remodeling focus to be of interest to me,” the remodeler says. Buckborough was intrigued by Abrams' discussion of employee ownership, though he's quick to point out that he's not ready to go down that road with his business right now.

Buckborough says the course also provided him with a more in-depth look at social responsibility in business and the use of green technology in building — two trends that are playing an ever-larger role in today's residential construction industry. “The business and succession planning information was valuable, too,” says Buckborough, who picked the school based on its socially responsible bent and unusual approach to the remodeling and the building trades. “It doesn't offer too many of these business-related classes, but the ones that it does provide are useful and interesting.”

A whimsical design for a solar shower on the Yestermorrow campus.
Yestermorrow Design/Build School A whimsical design for a solar shower on the Yestermorrow campus.

Yestermorrow offers 140 workshops and classes annually, with prices ranging from $150 for a one-day course to $750 for a one-week class. Subjects include energy efficiency and renewables, fine woodworking, and straw-bale construction. Outreach director Dan Eckstein says that Abrams' class was “a bit of an anomaly” in that it delved into business concepts not usually addressed in the school's offerings.

“Most of our classes are about hands-on building and design,” Eckstein says. “Our goal is to offer students exposure to new ideas, with the underlying mission of all our classes being: Good design and construction mean harming the earth as little as possible.”

The school is open year-round, is available to the public, and attracts a range of students, the majority of whom come to Vermont to attend (the school also offers a course in Costa Rica and another in the Dominican Republic).

Learn more about Yestermorrow Design/Build School at www.yestermorrow.org.

Bridget McCrea is a freelance writer based in Dunedin, Fla.