November 04, 2008

Student teams to unveil new designs for Cairo

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- During a series of public meetings that begin Monday, Nov. 10, a group of fourth-year Southern Illinois University Carbondale architecture students will present their designs to revitalize the Cairo community. The six student teams in the Cairo Urban Studio have incorporated information and input from Cairo citizens in the designs that they will unveil at 6 p.m. Monday at the Cairo Vision 20-20 Office located at 713 Washington Ave., Cairo.

The proposals build upon the work of earlier SIUC Cairo Urban Studio students, along with the goals and objectives Cairo citizens and other interested parties have expressed. Additional public input will help further shape the designs and additional public meetings will provide continuing insight into the plans and modifications before year’s end.

“It’s important that as many Cairo residents as possible review these proposals and offer their critical comments and suggestions,” said Robert H. Swenson, architect and associate architecture professor at SIUC. “That will enable the students to make revisions and complete their design work in ways that truly reflect the interests and participation by Cairo residents and officials. We really want to provide final products that will actually be useful to the community.”

Students have met with school and community members and learned much about the community located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. Swenson said the student projects are “right-on and very realistic this year” but that to truly be effective tools, they must be honed with continuing community input.

Students will present revised plans Nov. 20 from 1:30 to 4 p.m. in the architecture studio, Quigley Hall Room 119 at SIUC. Presentation of the final plans is set for 1-4 p.m. Dec. 4 at the architecture studio and 6-8 p.m. Dec. 8 at the Cairo Vision 20-20 Office.

The Cairo Urban Studio class has focused on seven specific projects this fall: the downtown Tax Increment Financing District, Cairo public school facilities, a new United States Golf Association-sanctioned golf course, Cairo medical center facility and site revitalization, the north industrial/manufacturing area, master planning coordination and a video documentary of the Cairo Urban Project.

Essentially, the downtown TIF District plans include converting the former Board of Trade building on Seventh Street into a music school with performance and recording facilities, constructing a new hotel and convention center, creating a civil rights and underground railroad museum and developing the riverfront along traditional lines.

Proposals involving the school facilities include rehabilitating and remodeling the centrally located junior high and Mescher Gymnasium facilities into an energy-efficient structure and using it as a school and sporting facility for junior and senior high students; creating new sports facilities on adjacent grounds and now-vacant industrial sites in the vicinity; building a walking path between Cairo’s vital neighborhoods; and using the current junior/senior high school facility at the city’s north end as a manufacturing and industrial business incubator.

Also under consideration are plans for a USGA-sanctioned golf course and park area along with supporting facilities between the town’s western edge and the Mississippi River levee. In conjunction, planners suggest creating a Tiger Woods First Tee golf program, serving as an alternative physical education and team sport for local children.

The project proposals also include adaptive reuse of the former Cairo Medical Center and St. Mary’s Hospital site as an elderly retreat and transitional assisted living facilities with nearby land as a community park. Students are working with Southernmost Illinois Delta Empowerment Zone to formulate plans to revitalize the northern portion of the city with establishment of various industrial and manufacturing facilities in conjunction with a port and bulk container transport facility and storage yard operation.

Some of the students within the Cairo Urban Design Studio are also working to continue updating detailed city maps depicting what’s there and coordinating the various aspects of a master plan for Cairo. Others are working to create a video documentary of the Cairo Urban Project and plans call for making copies of the DVD available to all interested parties as both a record of the Cairo today as well as an inspiration for current and future revitalization efforts.