Field notes: How a school bus became a house

When Adam Marcus told his graduate students to do something “full-scale” for their final project, he didn’t think the semester would end with a school bus-house hybrid parked behind Rapson Hall.

“I said, ‘We’re going to do full scale,’” said Marcus, a University of Minnesota Architecture School design fellow. “And Hank said, ‘I’m gonna buy a bus.’ And I said, ‘Go for it.’”

“So I commend you for taking that premise literally, quite literally,” Marcus said to Hank Butitta, as the student presented his Master’s project to a group of professors and professional architects last week.

Hank has been working on the bus project for about four months, but he’s been thinking about it for years. Four or five years ago, Hank learned that his grandfather owns about 80 acres of land north of the Wisconsin Dells. Hank has been trying to figure out how to get a cabin on the property since then.

“Building code just doesn’t allow for buildings under 600 square feet and requires all sorts of permits for septic and electrical, even if you’re not interested in having those things,” said Butitta. “And we heard that if we were on wheels we could get away with anything we wanted.”

So when Hank received his instructions for his final project, he knew exactly what he wanted to do. He turned to Craigslist and bought a bus for $3,000.

Hank’s grandfather Curly, thrilled by the prospect of someone wanting to use the land, is lending Hank the money for this project. So far, Hank has  spent between $4,000 and $5,000, and estimates the project will take at least another $5,000 to finish.

“I’d like to keep the pace up with a few things to finish up the framing of the cabinets and maybe even the framing of the bathroom space,” said Butitta. “But it may be a few years until the systems really get fully fleshed out, probably a system a year. Like ‘OK, let’s get the propane hooked up and get a heater in here because the winter is miserable. OK, let’s get a toilet in, because I’m tired of going to the outhouse.’”

Though all those systems won’t yet be complete, Hank plans to park the bus on his grandfather’s land before the winter comes. The last step in the project will also be the most meaningful. The loan from Hank’s grandfather came with one condition: to put up a sign that says, “Curly’s Woods.”