At one time, the participants of YouthBuild Akron were considered underachievers. Now they’re about to attain one of the highest achievements in their field.

The young adults recently finished renovating a house on Akron’s Garfield Street that is expected to achieve LEED Platinum status, the highest level of certification offered under the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program. It would be the first residence in Akron to achieve the designation, which recognizes the extent to which the building and property save energy and protect the environment.

Wednesday, YouthBuild trainees and graduates joined community leaders in celebrating the home’s completion with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The LEED certification is still pending, but an assessment conducted by a LEED expert shows the project met the criteria required for platinum status, said YouthBuild Akron’s director, Robert Dowdell.

More than 20 trainees worked on the project over 16 months. The house is a subsidized unit owned by the Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority and is now the home of Burmese refugee Tu Ti, her husband, Mar Min, and their five children.

The house was gutted and rebuilt using supertight construction methods, generous insulation and such green elements as a high-efficiency furnace and an energy recovery ventilator that brings in fresh air and captures heat from the stale air before it’s sent back outside. Windows and overhangs were designed to cool the house naturally in summer and warm it in winter, and sustainable features such as energy-smart appliances and permeable paving were used extensively.

But perhaps the biggest transformation happened among the trainees who did the work.

“I’m someone who now believes negatives in my life can change,” said Akron resident Curtis Taylor, who was a high-school dropout when he entered the YouthBuild program. He is now working toward a diploma in heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration from Fortis College in Cuyahoga Falls.

Taylor, 25, graduated from YouthBuild last June but continued working on the house until he started school in the fall, just because he was eager to see the project through.

“I was so dedicated to finishing this project that I literally exhausted myself to make it happen,” he said.

Another YouthBuild graduate, Akron resident Michael Rice III, credited the program with giving him the motivation he lacked.

“I just didn’t know what I wanted to do,” said Rice, who is now 26 and a Metro bus driver. “They [YouthBuild leaders] just enlightened me.”

YouthBuild, a national program operated locally by Akron Summit Community Action Inc., seeks to build character and responsibility in young men and women ages 18 to 24 while teaching them construction skills. Its participants often come to the program without high school diplomas and sometimes with criminal records, but its graduates leave ready for the work force or higher education.

Over seven training classes, YouthBuild Akron has produced 121 graduates, including 81 who have earned their high-school equivalency diplomas, 77 who have earned national construction certificates and 33 who have entered or completed postsecondary education, said Malcolm J. Costa, Akron Summit Community Action’s president and chief executive officer.

YouthBuild graduate LaVail Duncan of Akron attended the ribbon cutting to support the program that played such an important role in his life. He now holds an associate’s degree and works as a contract employee for the city of Akron, assessing the risk of lead in buildings.

Duncan, 34, helped build a house for Habitat for Humanity when he was with YouthBuild 10 years ago and said he’s glad to see how the program has grown. “It makes me proud to be a part of it,” he said.

The decision to work toward platinum status for the Garfield Street house was ambitious, but the choice was the trainees’. A poster displayed at the ribbon-cutting ceremony shared the mission statement of the 2011-2012 class, which made that decision: “With the help of community partners, the YouthBuild trainees of 2011-2012 will get things done because we believe the collective will of the community is the greatest force conceivable,” it said in part.

The project represented a collaboration between YouthBuild and building materials company Saint-Gobain, which provided grant money, materials and expertise. Professionals in the architecture and construction fields and representatives of AMHA also were involved.

The renovation cost about $85,000, including the value of donated materials, Dowdell said. However, that figure didn’t include the value of the trainees’ labor.

The house would be the third building in the Akron area to achieve LEED Platinum status. The other two are the visitor center at the F.A. Seiberling Nature Realm and the ranger/natural resources building at Sand Run Metro Park.

Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or mbrecken@thebeaconjournal.com. You can also become a fan on Facebook at http://tinyurl.com/mbbreck, follow her on Twitter @MBBreckenridge and read her blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/mary-beth.