11/26/2008 3:38:24 PM
By Tanya Alexander
A vacant house in the Lower 9th Ward. The water level was over the top of the roof of this house and practically all houses in the Lower 9th.
Jean, a former resident of the lower 9th Ward who stayed behind and survived Katrina, holds an Annunciation Mission T-shirt signed by all members of the CNA delegation and left for the workers and volunteers there. Jean now works at the mission – a ministry of the Free Church of the Annunciation, where they provide lodging and guide people towards volunteer and mission opportunities in the City of New Orleans.
It’s been nine months since Civil Engineering and Architectural Engineering students journeyed as part of College of the North Atlantic’s (CNA) Global Design Studio to New Orleans. They went to lend a hand in rebuilding Louisiana’s largest city after the devastation of Katrina – the most destructive hurricane in recorded US history. The students discovered a desperate need for their skills; they also discovered they could only scratch the surface of what is projected to be some 10-15 years of recovery.
Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in August 2005. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 1,800 people lost their lives and the coast sustained more than $81 billion in damages. New Orleans had the most severe destruction when their levee system failed and flooded 80 per cent of the city. Three years later, people are still trying to rebuild infrastructure, communities and hope.
The Broadmoor Development Corporation (BDC) lives in the heart of New Orleans. They have been lobbying government, non-government organizations and private enterprise, developing strategic partnerships and assessing and resolving the community’s needs.
According to the BDC site, Broadmoor was the first neighborhood in the city to write and implement its own recovery plan. Ironic, considering that it was originally slated, in the January 2006 “Bring New Orleans Back” Commission recovery plan, for conversion into a drainage park. However, once people returning to the community heard of this, signs began to appear touting “Broadmoor Lives!” and the community quickly went to work. Since July 2006, Broadmoor has restored 72.3 per cent of its properties. They also created and operate a fully public charter school and are designing an educational and cultural corridor to anchor the community for generations to come.
It is in this educational corridor, fittingly, that CNA is making its mark. In March’s pilot initiative, lead by Ridge Road campus’ Architectural Engineering instructor Cluny Way and Civil Engineering instructor Darlene Spracklin-Reid, several of their students had the opportunity to integrate their studies with some real-life practice. Architectural Engineering students worked on designing homes in the flood zone – some eight-10 feet above ground – and Civil Engineering students worked on projects for the corridor, including a roundabout, or rotary, to slow and calm traffic in that area.
“Last year’s pilot project went really well,” says Spracklin-Reid. “This year is a little different – we have more civil students going and we’re hoping to do more in-depth projects. We will try every year to grow it to include more.”
This new group of third-year Civil Engineering students is going down to continue work in the educational corridor. The last group worked swiftly to survey and assess the damage, in order to present a report to Broadmoor on their findings, solutions and designs before they graduated.
“Last time, the two civil students did a lot of work after they returned, trying to get the report ready… but they were really pressed for time – just six weeks to get it all done,” Spracklin-Reid explains.
Now these four students, working in two groups, will have five months to prepare and are hoping to accomplish even more.
“We’re hoping Broadmoor will be able to pick and choose aspects from each project – they might like a parking lot from one group and a playground from another, for example,” she says.
The report also serves as the students’ thesis, completed in the last semester of the three-year program. Hal Roark, executive director of the BDC, says CNA’s professors and students have been vital in several ways. The students’ thesis in particular gives Broadmoor some real leverage with funding agencies and the city’s decision-makers.
“The engineering report… shows viability ahead of time, and gives us more chance to get it implemented,” says Roark. “It is absolutely invaluable to show this plan to city hall in advance – it shows the level of professionalism dedicated to this neighborhood and the fact that we have partnerships with universities and colleges. We use it, frankly, to advocate for better social policy; I name CNA, all the way up there in Newfoundland, Canada as a partner who is doing this work when I can’t get my own city government to help.”
And while labour is desperately needed and welcomed in New Orleans, the technical training of engineers is harder to come by and something that would normally cost plenty.
“It’s very important. With the funding crisis, we are completely depending on the pro bono labour, and we need this intellectual work even more desperately. We need to leverage brain far more than brawn,” says Roark, “and I’ve found that CNA really gets that. We’re grateful – without it, we wouldn’t be able to progress.”
The first activity for the new group will be to meet with Roark and the Broadmoor group to discover what they need. Then they’ll survey the neighborhood – that’s where instructor Jason Hillier comes in. He’ll assist and guide students in taking existing topographic data and measurements and uploading that data while they begin preliminary work – work that will ultimately include feasibility studies, engineering reports, construction schedules, cost estimates and computer aided drawings (CAD).
“I guess you can call me the technical advisor – this project will give students a chance to use learned theory and practical applications,” says Hillier. “The main goal is to get students in the field practicing their skills and troubleshooting when required. I will be there with them to make sure they pick up the right topographic data as time will be a factor.”
Hillier says it’s a great opportunity for students.
“This is a win-win situation for all involved – the Broadmoor Development Corporation receives technical solutions at no cost and students come back with a sense of accomplishment,” he says.
Spracklin-Reid calls this a Service-Learning approach. It ties into the softer side of engineering.
“If you read a description of what a civil engineer does, it’s basically improving life for people – things that really needed to be addressed, like bridges, water systems – civilization falls apart without it,” says Spracklin-Reid. “Through such projects, students are realizing just how much they have to give. Community Studies students have this mindset up front but engineering, that’s something we need to get across.”
Janine Collins is from St. John’s. She is in her third year of Civil Engineering at CNA and along with classmate Krista Walsh, makes up one team heading to New Orleans next week. She is seeing a whole range of benefits in the undertaking.
“It is a project that allows us as students to expand our knowledge into other parts of the world to gain experience within our field,” she says. “As a student, I feel very privileged to be offered this opportunity. This experience not only reflects well on my own career confidence, but it is also highly recognized by future employers on a resume. It shows willingness to travel, confidence in career knowledge, the ability to communicate and work with others from a different culture and the ability to comprise a design project outside of familiar surroundings while following other city regulations.”
Corey Hudson is familiar with volunteering. The third-year Civil Engineering student is a member of the Norman’s Cove-Long Harbour Volunteer Fire Department and works in his community of Norman’s Cove with several other associations, including the Royal Canadian Army Cadets. This project will be a wonderful learning experience and a way to augment learning while helping the global community.
“Our thesis project is something that needs to be done, but more than likely our plans and report would normally never be used for actual development,” shares Hudson.
“But this project will actually be considered and possibly constructed – this means a lot. We are helping the people of a city in great need; being a volunteer at heart, I try to give a helping hand wherever I can, be it in my community or at a global level. You get a great feeling when you help someone in need – a feeling that can’t be explained.”
And this is just what Sprackin-Reid means by Service-Learning. She explains that it is a subset of constructivism – a cutting-edge learning theory.
“Creation is the first sense of this type of learning,” explains Spracklin-Reid. “Any kind of project where they make something is the basis, but ideally they would have a finished project in hand – something that gives them a sense of responsibility.”
The Civil Engineering group will largely focus on the Andrew Wilson Charter School, with a redesign of the school grounds, a parking lot and more green space. Architectural Engineering students will make their return in the New Year to assist Broadmoor with their structural assessment of residential and commercial buildings. The groups will return annually well into the future, forging a valued partnership.
“My plan is while we implement these projects, we feature our partners and CNA will be featured prominently in there,” says Roark. “We have congress and senators come through – Broadmoor is definitely on the map thanks to the Clinton Global Initiative. It’s been wonderful and who knows where this will go.”
For now, the report submitted last spring by Civil Engineering students Jonathan Cole and Derek Ennis is in the hands of Harvard graduate student Sara Dabbs – an intern hired by Roark to work in the educational corridor. She is working with Roark to lobby the city for approval of the proposed round-about.
If this happens, it will be a testament, as New Orleans is itself, to the power of partnership. Broadmoor lives!
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