Teens work on TV show's home makeover

The robotics students from East Lake High are part of the team working on the Dolan home for Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.

Published March 10, 2005

EAST LAKE - When freshman Samantha Hunter joined the East Lake High School robotics team, she knew that, as one of three girls in the 40-member club, she would meet boys.

She didn't know she would meet her favorite designer, Preston Sharp from Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.

"I personally think he's a babe," Hunter said.

Sharp and a crew from the popular ABC reality TV show visited East Lake High on Tuesday. Unless you gave up the news for Lent, you probably know that the Extreme Makeover team is rebuilding an entire home in Seminole in just one week.

Paul Wahnish, an East Lake High teacher, coach and head of the robotics team, was contacted by ABC-TV to participate on the show. His students' assignment: transform a 12- by 14-foot bedroom into a cyber-wonderland for 12-year-old Charlie Dolan.

Charlie is the son of James Dolan, a RadioShack employee who was blinded in a shooting rampage in November. The Dolan family has been whisked off to Puerto Rico for a week while their modest house is rebuilt with the help of the TV crew and nearly 2,000 other workers.

The robotics team is working feverishly this week to complete its designs for Charlie's room, which will feature a 5-foot remote-controlled robotic arm mounted from the ceiling. It will hang over a 10-foot L-shaped clear acrylic desk. Under the desk's hinged top will be a playing field with several miniature robots the students built.

"I think he's going to love it," said senior Stephen Daries, 18. "In fact, I'm jealous."

"This is some really cool stuff," said freshman Adam Horne, 15.

Charlie also will get a miniature replica of the robot named Captain Krunch the team is entering in the international FIRST robotics competition.

Each year teams across the country are given six weeks to build a robot to handle a specific task. This year Captain Krunch was redesigned to be able to pick up and stack tetrahedrons - a pyramid-shaped object - into a tall tier in two minutes.

The 130-pound robot has been shipped to Orlando where the first round of the competition begins today and continues through Saturday. Some team members will leave the competition early to begin assembly on site at the Dolans' property.

"Beginning on Saturday, we get 16 hours to get everything installed and operational in Charlie's room," said Wahnish.

The Dolans are scheduled to return to their new home with great fanfare on Sunday.

"We'll be going nonstop, 36 or 48 hours," said senior Jim Hoskins, 17. "Getting everything done in a week is hard, but we're up to the challenge."

The other member of the Extreme Makeover design team visiting East Lake High was Paul DiMeo, known as "Paulie" on the show.

Sharp and DiMeo asked the students questions as the cameras rolled, part of more than 4,000 hours of footage shot for each show.

"This episode, I think the emphasis is on hi-tech stuff," said sophomore Jason Novak, 15.

During filming Tuesday, Sharp told the students the Dolans' house will feature voice recognition technology. He also said Charlie is very interested in robotics.

"He wants one day to be able to make cybernetic eyes for his dad," Sharp said.

James Dolan, 30, was working the late shift at a St. Petersburg RadioShack when Justin Cudar, 25, walked in and began shooting Nov. 18. Cudar shot Dolan in the head and fatally shot employee Joana Cruz, 19, and customer Kenneth Powell, 23, before killing himself. Dolan, a father of three, lost both eyes.

Wahnish said he hopes the East Lake High team's participation in this project establishes a bond with Charlie.

"Maybe he will choose to join our engineering program through the school choice plan," he said.

Many of the students on the team said how glad they were to do something for the Dolans.

"It's a great opportunity to help out this family," said sophomore Darren Drysdale, 16.

Drysdale, a fan of Extreme Makeover, said he likes to watch the carpentry.

"And the fact that they do it all in a week is amazing," he said.

The episode is expected to air in the next five to eight weeks. Wahnish said he was told it might be saved for May, one of the television ratings sweeps months.

The show is known for ramping up the emotional aspects.

Samantha Hunter will be watching, just as she does every Sunday.

"Me and my mom cry every week," she said.