Home Is Where the Heart Is
Youngs estimates about 95 percent of his current work is a direct result of the tornadoes. One of the most significant challenges Youngs has encountered is finding a balance between getting residents home as soon as possible and taking enough time to thoughtfully rebuild structures. Youngs stresses the importance of hiring an engineer to evaluate whether residences are structurally sound and require only cosmetic changes or necessitate almost total rebuilding. “Your home is your base. That’s where you feel safe and where you feel like you’re whole again. Homeowners just want to get it fixed quickly, and I think some of them are making bad decisions that will come back and haunt them in a couple years when their homes start showing cracks from problems that weren’t repaired and were just covered up,” Youngs says.
In Birmingham, Nikolich and Anderson, working with other local architects, are developing prototypical housing plans for some affected communities. “If we’re going to rebuild in the wake of a disaster, how do we use this as an opportunity to build something that’s better? How do we improve upon what was there?” Nikolich asks. “This is a way we can use our expertise to help improve the built environment and hopefully bring some expert advice to the process of rebuilding rather than having it being driven solely by a function of time and cost.”
Despite the best intentions, many communities would define rebuilding as an exercise in patience. Cordova, Ala., 33 miles northwest of Birmingham with a population of about 2,300, for example, is the subject of an urban planning exercise conducted by Cheryl Morgan, who is a professor at Auburn University, Auburn, Ala., and director of the Urban Studio, an outreach program of the College of Architecture, Design and Construction that develops master community plans. As part of a larger project several years ago to revitalize about 40 small towns in Alabama, she and her students had completed a master plan for Cordova, which the town did not implement. After the tornadoes struck, the town asked Morgan to revisit the master plan and amend it to fit Cordova’s current situation. “The dynamics of what has happened have changed some aspects of what Cordova thought its built environment would be,” Nikolich explains. “In the interest of properly planning the community, you’re asking folks to hold off on rebuilding their community when the initial reaction is to rebuild one’s town and move on with life.”
Door and window manufacturer ProVia, Sugarcreek, Ohio, has donated materials and time to the devastation across the nation. In July, 15 employees traveled to Joplin to volunteer for one week. “It was quite a sight to see all the damage there. They said the tornado was a mile wide and ripped through town for 5 miles,” says Joe Klink, director of corporate relations. “Whole neighborhoods were completely blown away. We saw brick homes that were just a pile of bricks.”
ProVia employees devoted much of their time to cleaning up rubble from houses. FEMA had agreed to absorb the cost of removing debris as long as the rubble was brought to the curb by a certain date. Lititz, Pa.-based Mennonite Disaster Services (MDS), which ProVia partnered with in the cleanup and rebuilding effort, prioritized homeowners without insurance and means to remove the heavy debris themselves. “We had a Bobcat and we started hauling, raking and pulling concrete and everything out to the curb by the deadline,” Klink recalls. “When we left the place, it didn’t look any different than when we came. The devastation is that widespread. The difference we made was for the individuals whose property we cleared.”
In addition to debris removal, Klink and his team helped construct a building for MDS to use throughout the next several years during the recovery. A previous volunteer group had erected the framing on the 50- by 100-foot structure; the ProVia team attached the walls and metal roof.