They’re football rivals, but an amazing thing happened off the field

2:08 p.m Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018 Local
EDS Air Conditioning technician Don Connelly (center) helps Royal Palm Beach High School seniors Walter Joseph (left) and Phillip Ford prepare an air-conditioning duct for installation on Friday in suburban West Palm Beach. The students, part of Royal Palm High’s HVAC-R Academy, installed the air-conditioning system at a home built for Habitat for Humanity by students in the Weitz Construction Academy at Seminole Ridge High School, their on-field rivals. (Kristina Webb / The Palm Beach Post)

For six years, Patrick Raney’s crew has installed air-conditioning systems in homes for Habitat for Humanity. His team members take no salary. They toil in hot attics, sweat drenching their clothes as they run copper wires through dirt-floored crawl spaces.

These are the students in Royal Palm Beach High School’s HVAC-R Academy, one of several programs at the school designed to build students’ resumes and make them more employable while preparing them for secondary education.

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The program’s leaders were asked about six years ago to take part in a project in which students in Seminole Ridge High School’s Weitz Construction Academy built a modular home for Habitat for Humanity. That program’s leader, teacher Rick Terkovich, reached out to Raney to see if his students could install the air-conditioning system for each home.

“I thought, hmm, two football team rivals working together,” Raney said, laughing.

Royal Palm students were at the latest project house on Miss Piney Road in suburban West Palm Beach last week to install air ducts, piping and copper wiring. Thirteen of the more than 100 students in the academy spread throughout the three-bedroom Habitat for Humanity home. They scaled a ladder to get into the attic. They sawed at insulation.

And they smiled. With sweat pouring down their faces, it was clear they had a sense of purpose.

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“These up-and-coming kids get to have this experience,” said Chris Payne, with EDS Air Conditioning, one of the program sponsors. “It’s great to see.”

Yoel Garcia, 17, is a senior who hopes to go into refrigeration after he graduates. “It’s funner than most of the stuff they teach at school,” he joked when asked how he enjoys the academy.

But he became serious when asked about his future. “The opportunities they have here are much better than any other opportunities,” he said.

Raney credits the high rate of student job placement after graduation with professional partnerships established over the more than 20 years the program has been running at Royal Palm High. EDS alone has hired at least six of his students, he said.

Those partnerships also help the students do the work for Habitat for free, with donated equipment. Arco Supply donates “everything from the screws to the piping,” Raney said. Tropic Supply donates the air-conditioning systems. EDS donates professionals who work with the students on-site. And for the first time this year, APCO donated an air-purifying system and taught Raney’s students how to install it.

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When the home is completed later this spring or early summer, Raney and his students will be there the day Habitat for Humanity presents the home to its new family.

This is his 11th year leading the program. He was tapped to move from performing maintenance at the school to teaching after the former academy leader became seriously ill.

“I walked into the classroom, and I saw a bunch of kids there that reminded me of myself,” he said.

“I’m like a big dad,” he said, his voice swelling with pride as he watched a senior work with two juniors Friday morning. “You know how many sons I have?” He sighed. “I never thought I would have this many sons.”