Students from New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) will spend spring break cleaning out houses in a flood-ravaged neighborhood in New Orleans.
The 50 students, all of whom attend NJIT’s New Jersey School of Architecture, will be helping residents of New Orleans during the week of March 13-20. They will sleep in St. Algiers’s volunteer camp, which is run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and will work with the ACORN Housing Corporation. ACORN officials will direct the students to damaged houses in the New Orleans East neighborhood, near to the city’s industrial canal.
“Helping people rebuild their houses, and their lives, is an amazing feeling and a great experience,” says Thomas Reynolds, 22, of Montclair, a senior at NJIT who helped organize the trip. “I’d much rather spend my vacation helping these people than sitting on a beach in Florida.”
(Editor’s Note: Reporters can reach the students in New Orleans by calling Reynolds on his cell phone at 973-493-5673, or architect James Dart at 917-207-8535).
Reynolds is taking an architecture studio class at NJIT focused on surveying and rebuilding housing in New Orleans. The 11 students in the class are surveying and studying the damage to some of the 1,600 houses in the New Orleans East neighborhood. Their goal is to develop designs and prototypes for houses that will better withstand flooding. They visited New Orleans last month, and for this trip they invited other architecture students to join them; 39 students responded.
“The trip is an invaluable experience for our students,” says James Dart, who teaches the studio class and will lead the class trip. “It makes what they do in studio seem considerably less abstract. They will learn how a neighborhood truly works, both architecturally and socially. Working in New Orleans is inspiring and uplifting to the students and for the homeowners whose houses get worked on.”
Dart said his studio class focusing on New Orleans will continue through next year, at the end of which the students will construct their prototypes for more flood-resistant houses. The designs will call for more water-resistant finishes and materials, he said, as well as spaces — cupolas or dormer rooms, where owners could seek refuge.
Dart is a native son of New Orleans. He was born there and his family still lives in the city. His ancestors go back six generations. It was his idea to found an architecture studio devoted to helping a neighborhood in his hometown.
"I know the city very well and love it so much,” he says. “It was hard for me to see it so devastated. I’m just lucky I teach architecture and, along with my wonderfully devoted students, can do something to help the people start anew.”
Editors: Here are the names and hometowns of the 11 students in studio class who will visit New Orleans: Chad Coronato, Toms River; Astra Freet, Atlantic Highlands; Thomas Jardim, Windsor, Conn.; Hyung S. Kang, Bergenfield; Andy Kim, Parsippany; Viren Patel, Aberdeen, Md.; John Rago, Clifton; Thomas Reynolds, Montclair; Richard Rush, Indianapolis, Ind.; Patricia Sabater, Jersey City; and Matthew Schott, Vernon.