October 03, 2012

Architecture faculty, students assist “YouthBuild”

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Faculty and students in Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s School of Architecture will help youths in Alexander and Pulaski counties gain construction and historic preservation experience.

The effort is part of a program that stems from a recent U.S. Department of Labor grant under the agency’s “YouthBuild” program to the Cairo-based Delta Center, Inc., for at-risk youths between 16 and 24 years old.  The $728,000 grant for three years will enable students to earn General Educational Development (GED) degrees and improve their skills to potentially earn jobs in the construction field.

Students and faculty from the School of Architecture will provide construction documents and design work in addition to participating in the building process next summer, said Chad Schwartz, an assistant professor in the architecture program.

Schwartz, along with Shannon McDonald and Laura Morthland, also assistant professors, are involved with the community outreach project along with Robert Swenson, an associate professor emeritus in the School of Architecture.  “YouthBuild” program students will renovate an historic home and build a new home, Schwartz said.  Approximately 70 students in the architecture and interior design programs were involved in the initial design process, and Schwartz expects around 10 students in the two programs will participate in the construction document and building process next spring and summer.

“This has a potential to make a real impact on the lives of many people,” Schwartz said.  “This is an opportunity for students to be involved in regional architecture and regional building construction.”

A community education event to detail specifics of the program is set for 11:30 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 4, in the Delta Activity Center, 417 30th St., Cairo.

Lisa Tolbert, Delta Center executive director, said the program consists of three, nine-month cycles with 17 youths in each cycle.  She anticipates youths will begin the GED and construction components at the end of the year.

Participating students will complete one project each nine-month cycle, Tolbert said.  A home owned by the city of Cairo will be a “lab” for students.  The first rehab project that the students will complete is a “shotgun”-style home in Cairo. Organizers are looking for the next project.

Partners in the project include Delta Center, Inc., the SIU Carbondale School of Architecture, Shawnee College, Shawnee Development Council, and the First Judicial Circuit Probation for Alexander and Pulaski counties.

Tolbert said the hope is for general contractors in the area and local labor unions to participate in an advisory council that will be part of the project.

"We need all of these components in place if the kids are going to find gainful employment,” Tolbert said.

The School of Architecture’s participation was pivotal in securing the grant, Tolbert said.

“I strongly believe the participation of the SIU School of Architecture was one of the key components to making this work,” she said.

Walter V. Wendler, director of the School of Architecture, said the project is a “strong example of effective community outreach.”  The grant will provide an excellent opportunity for both faculty and students to engage in the community and “gain invaluable insight regarding the power of community service in professional disciplines,” he said.

The grant is a positive opportunity for youth to obtain valuable skills training, and could be a “powerful motivation for a future career in building trades or a related area,” he said.