Archive for Thursday, March 20, 2008

KU class recycles Sunflower for Greensburg

March 20, 2008

Packing and moving 402 miles is no easy task, but packing and moving an entire building - walls and all - 400 miles is a task just short of Herculean.

A group of Kansas University students and their professor, along with seven semitrailers and a crane, did just that Monday when they took a building they built in a warehouse on the site of the old Farmland Industries plant on Kansas Highway 10 in east Lawrence and transported it to Greensburg, as part of the reconstruction effort for the tornado-ravaged town.

Of course, the drive to Greensburg is only 270 miles by the most efficient route, but because of the need to dodge overpasses and narrow roads, the convoy was forced east past Wellsville before heading west.

Zack Arndt and his fellow graduate students built had been building what is to become Greensburg's new community building since January. The work started with a trip to the former Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant in De Soto to gather wood for the project. Last week, they started to disassemble their creation so it could make the trip out of town.

"It's the next step," Arndt said Friday. "It's just another milestone in the project. We have a lot more work to do."

Some of that work included installation of electrical fixtures, painting, flooring and foundation work. The seven pieces of the building will have to be joined back together as well.

Name meaningful

So from Monday until May 4, the 22 graduate students in Dan Rockhill's Studio 804 class will live in southwest Kansas. Because of the already existing shortage of buildings in Greensburg, they'll be living in Pratt Community College dorms and drive a half hour to Greensburg each morning.

"May 4, the one-year anniversary of the storm, is the deadline, but we'd like to be done a couple of weeks before that, just so we can tie up some loose ends," Arndt said.

The building will be named 547 Arts Center, a direct reference to the date Greensburg was leveled by a massive tornado: 5-4-2007.

"I don't think my emotions could have swelled much more throughout this process because I've been waiting so long for it," said Jenny Kivett, another graduate student working on the project. "But to know it's going to a place that needs it and to people that appreciate it and want it is something very special and exciting."

Kivett said the undertaking has been a massive one, with little opportunity to sit back and feel the way through the process.

"We all got pushed out of the nest basically and were told to fly," she said. "I pretty well expected what was going to happen, never fully thinking I was ready to do it."

But, evidently, the students are ready.

"At the beginning of the semester I had mere boy hands. Now they've developed into man hands with calluses and dirt," Arndt said as he showed off a pair of paws that seemed to have not seen a sink in a week or two.

Building arrives

The trip to Greensburg wasn't without incident. Rockhill said, however, that the problems were minor.

"I'm delighted everything seems to be intact," he said. "We have a couple of loose pieces, but considering the thousands of pieces we used" that's not bad.

A car of three students followed the trucks from Lawrence to Greensburg, stopping at least twice to reseal parts of the building modules from the weather. At one point, north of Ottawa, Tim Overstreet climbed on top of one of the buildings and nailed down the weather-proof membrane, while being pounded by constant rain.

At another point, west of Council Grove, the students had to resecure some of the temporary siding on the building.

"The weather has been the main obstacle," said Simon Mance, an 804 student who arrived in Greensburg before the convoy finally pulled into town. "A lot of us are really tired, but we can't be tired. We're really excited to be here even if we are tired."

Sign of progress

Stacy Barnes, a former Lawrence resident and Lawrence Arts Center employee, came home to Greensburg after the tornado and will be its first director of the new center.

"To be part of my town's rebuilding, I couldn't imagine not being here," Barnes said. "After living in Lawrence, it's interesting that a Lawrence group is the one building us this arts center.

"This is just one more sign of progress. It's just one more sign we're rebuilding."

Barnes said the plan is to take over from the student architects in May and be ready to offer the first classes this summer. Eventually the center will include exhibits, performances and classes.

"We're going to start small and do a few things, but do them well," she said.

That seems to be the theme in Greensburg these days. Though the area surrounding the new art center remains mostly barren, aside from the nearby Big Well - billed as the world's largest hand-dug well, there are signs of rebirth.

Small signs.

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