Sharing resources rebuilds hope... and a community

3/7/2008 11:39:51 AM

Broadmoor is a neighborhood found in the heart of New Orleans. The destruction was so severe there was discussion about not rebuilding, but turning it into greenspace. These signs began to appear everywhere, showing the neighborhood’s determination to revive their community. Bottom: Those reconstructing in New Orleans are required to raise the structure above the flood line, some eight-10 feet above ground. Architectural Engineering Technology students will be helping the residents of New Orleans with this challenge.

Last year a delegation from CNA travelled to New Orleans to meet with groups interested in rebuilding communities. From bottom left, Preston Ray, IUPUI; Jan Cowan, IUPUI (formally of CNA); John Oates, CNA campus administrator, Ridge Road campus; Hal Roark, Executive Director of the Broadmoor Community Development Corporation; Stephen Tremaine, Bard College, Director, New Orleans Initiative; Darlene Spracklin-Reid, instructional coordinator, Architectural, Civil and Geomatics Engineering Technology programs.

If you had a chance to help the victims of the most destructive hurricane in recorded US history, would you?

Students of the Architectural Engineering Technology and Civil Engineering Technology programs at College of the North Atlantic (CNA) are doing just that – helping New Orleans rebuild its beloved city, devastated by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 and still trying to rebound over two years later.

When Jonathan Cole’s Civil Engineering Technology instructor Darlene Spracklin-Reid walked into class and asked for volunteers to help rebuild New Orleans, he put his hand up.

“Actually, my classmate Derek Ennis was sitting next to me and immediately put up his hand,” says Jonathan, “but no one else did. He is always the first to volunteer for anything that comes his way. Finally it clicked with me what an opportunity it was and I quickly volunteered too.”

This was in October 2007. Spracklin-Reid and Architectural Engineering Technology instructor Cluny Way travelled to the slowly healing New Orleans in December 2007 to assess the situation and see just what could be done in terms of rebuilding infrastructure.

“We met with the Broadmoor Community Development Corporation in the heart of New Orleans… there is so much going on and they are very proactive – that’s why we decided to work with them,” says Spracklin-Reid.

“They made it clear to us that they really needed our help and were very excited about what our students could do for them.”

CNA’s students are providing engineering and architectural designs for several projects in the Broadmoor area. In particular, the architecture group will be working on designing buildings with pillared foundations that lift structures above the flood line – some eight-10 feet.

“It is a common practice, actually, to raise their homes up on these types of foundations,” explains Spracklin-Reid, “and if you want to reconstruct in New Orleans, your house must be raised above the flood line.

“Their soil is clay… here in Newfoundland it would be easy to build, but clay settles more and presents different design challenges; that’s what’s so exciting working there under different conditions – it provides a chance for students to apply theory that they wouldn’t see here.”

Indeed, Engineering Technology programs at CNA are presented in a Service Learning format – the method of teaching, learning and reflecting that combines academic classroom curriculum with meaningful service – what Spracklin-Reid refers to as “experiential education.”

The Service Learning approach is becoming increasingly popular in North American engineering schools, she says, allowing a balance between theoretical knowledge and practical application. This bodes well for the hands-on nature of work graduates will be expected to perform in their careers. Another post-secondary educational institution applying this form of instruction is one of CNA’s educational partners (sharing transfer agreements with Engineering Technology programs) – Indiana University/Purdue University at Indianapolis (IUPUI) – also a partner on the New Orleans projects.

In fact, IUPUI’s Dr. Jan Cowan (formally an instructor with CNA) and CNA’s Cluny Way, have been working together since 2004 on a co-project linking their engineering programs. This distance learning program involving IUPUI, CNA and the University of Gadjah Mada in Indonesia prompted the creation of a virtual architectural studio – the Global Design Studio (GDS) – with the intention of giving the students of each institution’s engineering programs an opportunity to learn about different characteristics of architecture in their own and each other’s countries.

“The initial collaboration involved the design of several residential projects,” says Way, “and students were given the preliminary requirements of fictitious clients located in each of the participating countries.

“From these designs, our students developed very detailed technical design contract documents, which they completed as a requirement of their DR3100 course.”

The endeavours have proven to be invaluable to the engineering technology programs, says Way, in that students are exposed to construction techniques found in other countries. And now with the unexpected practical experience on the ground in New Orleans, the virtual studio has become a reality. In fact, the process of rebuilding New Orleans is expected to yield some 10-15 years of projects for the Global Design Studio.

“The prospect of graduates beginning their careers with the ability to work internationally from any geographical location holds tremendous cultural and economic benefits for all parties involved,” says Way.

This, and the fact that they are making a real difference in the lives of real people. There are so many areas of the city needing help, the group had to decide which projects to take on. The neighborhood of Broadmoor showed some real community spirit when signs began appearing throughout the city declaring: Broadmoor Lives in the Heart of New Orleans – Save the Neighborhood.

For reference, the flood waters and the hurricane damaged 71.5 per cent of the homes in New Orleans – according to the US Department of Health and Human Services, more than $81 billion dollars in damages occurred and 1,800 people lost their lives. In Broadmoor, eight-10 feet of water surged through homes when the levees broke and the local pumping station flooded. Many of the homes destroyed and damaged were Spanish colonials, bungalows, classical mansions and double-shotgun houses, which were built by the early 1950s; Broadmoor is a designated historic neighborhood.

“New Orleans is trying to get all its residents back; Broadmoor wants to do the same,” says Spracklin-Reid.

“Through giving them services that attract people to a community: schools, churches, recreation facilities, it makes it an attractive area to live and grow. Broadmoor has received funding to secure a charter school and they are trying to make it the centre of the community.”

It was decided by the Global Design Studio that they would start with the heart of Broadmoor – what they’re calling the educational corridor. It has been identified that the area currently is a high traffic zone and presents far too many dangers as it is. Preliminary research revealed at least 21 vehicle-pedestrian conflict points that are simply not remedied by common traffic lights, says civil engineering student Cole.

“Traffic speed is too high for an educational corridor,” says Cole, “with a three-point intersection; each road is divided too so you have a lot of conflict for pedestrians. Right now, the intersection is a mess.

“For the solution, we’ve proposed a roundabout, or rotary, to slow and calm traffic in that area. Also, we’re going to dead-end another parallel street along the educational corridor. You have churches, schools, and a community centre and therefore a lot of people walking there. This way, drivers aren’t using the street as a short cut to somewhere.”

Time permitting, Cole and his counterpart Derek Ennis hope to also design a parking lot for the community centre. The structure itself is a project of the Architectural Engineering Technology students at CNA. A delegation from CNA consisting of Spracklin-Reid (also instructional coordinator for Architectural, Civil and Geomatics Engineering Technology programs at CNA), fellow Civil Engineering Technology instructor Jason Hillier, Way, and a combination of six Civil and Architectural Engineering Technology students who volunteered their time and services, are making a trip to New Orleans on March 10 to survey and inspect their respective projects.

Cole is anxious, as he and Ennis only have two months before the school year is out and they want to do as much work for Broadmoor as they can before they graduate this spring.

“We’re going for a week. We have to survey the land around the intersection with the survey gear we are taking with us,” Cole explains.

“We’ll then take the info back and plug it into an Autocad program called Land Development Desktop and basically design the roundabout from all the information we gather. We send this to the Broadmoor group along with a feasibility and scheduling report , complete with estimations for the construction project.”

This in-depth report will serve as Cole and Ennis’ technical thesis. It is not the intention of the project that students will physically work on these designs, but it isn’t something that’s ruled out, says Spracklin-Reid.

“We hope to have even more students down there to do volunteer work, but it’s going to take some money,” she says.

“And those who are attracted to the social sciences… those who want to give… I’m hoping they will take a different view of engineering and see that it is about helping people.”

Certainly, the human element is not something one first thinks of with the topic of engineering. But to hear the pleasure and excitement in Cole’s voice as he speaks about his chosen career does warm the heart, and the work the Global Design Studio is doing surely will be something the people of Broadmoor and the greater New Orleans will not soon forget.

“Now, this is what I came to the college for… a humanitarian project... helping other people, and getting real-world ‘hands on’ experience,” says Cole.

“It feels great to be a part of it!”


For more information, contact:

Tanya Alexander
Public Information Officer
College of the North Atlantic
709. 643.7928


Stephen Lee
Marketing and Communications Manager
College of the North Atlantic
709. 643.7721