2012 US Tornadoes Recovery

by Architecture for Humanity

On February 29th, 2012, an early morning tornado killed seven residents of Harrisburg, Illinois, and destroyed 143 homes and several businesses. Preliminarily listed by the National Weather Service as an FE4, the tornado had wind speeds topping at 180 mph. The Golden Circle Senior Wellness Center was completely destroyed in the storm. Along with the loss of records, photos of local veterans, and pool tables, the senior food program, serving 80 lunches from the Center's dining room and preparing an additional 120 lunches for the local Meals on Wheels program, was crippled. During the past several months, Golden Circle has temporarily moved their operations to the Dorrisville Baptist Church while they arrange funding to rebuild.

On August 11, 2012, volunteers from Architecture for Humanity Chicago met with George Cain, the architect of record for the Golden Circle Senior Center reconstruction, and representatives from the Center. The purpose of the charrette and Architecture for Humanity Chicago's involvement was to document the vision for the new Golden Circle Senior Wellness Center through renderings and diagrams.

The final project deliverable, a visioning booklet, contains the results of that meeting. This booklet will also be handed over to George Cain, AIA, of Crawford, Murphy, and Tilly, the architect of record, to be used as a reference of the charrette and discussions with Golden Circle during his creation of construction documents. Download the Visioning Booklet (PDF, 2.9Mb)

Left: April 2012 assessment of Harrisburg damage, image by Bill Gnech; Right: August 11 Visioning Charrette with Golden Circle

Floor plan and program

Left: Perspective alternative; Right: Entrance alternative and donor wall

The Golden Circle Senior Center was leveled by the February 29, 2012, tornadoes which swept through Harrisburg, Illinois.

Through subsequent receipt of a construction grant and insurance money, the Center has raised $800,000 - most of the way to their $1M goal to rebuild a permanet center serving 150-250 people each day.

Still, $1 million doesn't leave much room for amenities.

With the funds Architecture for Humanity has raised from private donations since the disaster, we will be issuing a grant to the Architecture for Humanity Chicago Chapter to work with residents of Golden Circle and provide services that would not otherwise be afforded through funds the Center has raised for construction.

In the coming weeks, representatives of the Chicago chapter will conduct design charrettes with members of the Golden Circle community and identify specifically how to maximize use of the funding available through Architecture for Humanity.

Through the intense, informative collaboration of the charrette, the Chapter can isolate what would most benefit the senior center, and take the necessary steps to outline how to make it possible. Chicago architect and Harrisburg native George Cain has agreed to apply his expertise toward executing the project, along with the Chapter.

We're anxious to see this initiative take shape as Golden Circle begins to rebuild, and will endeavor to collect more funding to grow the size of the grant. The larger the award, the more we can accomplish.

Efforts assisting Harrisburg have recently focused on the reconstruction of a senior center. 

The Chicago component of the American Institute of Architects has engaged several of its members in working with the Golden Circle Center to rebuild. The Chicago chapter of Architecture for Humanity has assisted the coordination of these efforts.

The Chicago-based effort assisting Harrisburg is part of a nation-wide Disaster Recovery and Response Program launched jointly by the American Institute of Architects and Architecture for Humanity. The Program is assembling resources through partnerships between locally-based AIA components and AfH chapters to coordinate advocacy, education and training and help architects make effective contributions to communities preparing for, responding to and rebuilding after disaster.

The new partnership/disaster program has enabled open communication between the AIA and Architecture for Humanity for this project, streamlining architect intervention in Harrisburg's recovery. For more information on the Partnership, visit architectsrebuild.org


Over 100 tornadoes touched down the weekend of April 14-15 as part of a massive storm system passing through the Midwest.

The town of Woodward, Oklahoma, was the worst hit, destroying 89 homes and 13 businesses in the community of 12,000. In Wichita, 100 homes were damaged, mostly those in trailer parks. Tornadoes touched down in many parts of Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa. 37 counties in Kansas have been declared disaster areas.

While storm season is in full swing, people are speculating whether the weather this year is abnormally severe. A Time Science article suggests that due to relatively recent trend of exhaustive storm coverage it is difficult to say. The 2012 tornado death toll has already exceeded the national average - this before May, the heaviest month for storms in mid-America.

Rigorous early warning procedures had cautioned of severe weekend weather and is thought to have spared many more injuries and deaths.

Architecture for Humanity is reaching out to local chapters for a follow up to assess needed design services.

More reading:
Weekend tornadoes leave 'a royal mess' in Midwest; 6 dead, USA Today
The Weekend of 100 Tornadoes: Are Killer Storms Being Fueled by Climate Change?, TimeScience
Tornado Hits Wichita's Ailing Aviation Industry, NPR

On March 30, representatives of Architecture for Humanity and the AIA met with officials of the City of Harrisburg, Illinois, the site of tremendous tornado damage occurring on February 29. The discussion assessed the needs of the town, as immediate relief winds down, clean up continues and discussions of the long-term needs and prospects of the community begin.

Harrisburg's own Daily Register recounts the discussion:

Below are the meeting notes in full:

On Friday, March 30th, 2012, George Cain, AIA, of Crawford, Murphy and Tilly (CMT) and Kristi Pearson, IIDA of Hellmuth Obata Kassabaum (HOK), both representing Architecture for Humanity (AfH) and the American Institute of Architects (AIA) met with City of Harrisburg officials, Ron Crank - Commissioner, Bill Summers – Fire Chief and Rick Mallady – Emergency Management Administrator/Fire Department, along with Harrisburg’s Daily Register Reporter, Jon Musgrave. Bill Gnech, Architectural Photographer for the Apple Group and representing AfH accompanied the group and photographed the disaster sites while the group met.

The meeting included the introduction of AfH and the AIA and the organizations’ offer to assist the City of Harrisburg by providing design services and/or financial assistance. The group was given AfH’s website address. The group discussed the following issues:

  • Approximately 143 residences were destroyed or seriously damaged in the disaster. The number of people staying in shelters is approximately 25. The path of the tornado was approximately 250 yards wide and affected the southeast portion of the city.
  • A memorial for the seven people that perished in the disaster is desired by the City.
  • Harrisburg’s Golden Circle building, home to a nonprofit senior citizens group, was destroyed in the disaster. The building not only provided a place for seniors to gather, but also a place to cook daily meals for their “Meals on Wheels” program. The program is currently using the Dorrisville Baptist Church kitchen to provide this service. The City of Harrisburg is willing to donate land that it owns for the construction of a new facility. Design and construction services are needed.
  • Of concern for many low income or elderly disaster victims is the reassessed tax burden brought on by a newly built residence. A bill introduced in the Illinois House of Representatives, by local representative, Brandon Phelps, passed unanimously in the House and is expected to do the same in the Senate. This bill would alleviate the concern.
  • There are no building codes or a zoning ordinance established in Harrisburg.
  • The City is without an Emergency Operations Center.
  • The city was concerned about their economy before the disaster. Harrisburg has been economically strained for years and has depended heavily on the coal mining and service industries. The City knows that some destroyed businesses will not rebuild in Harrisburg, nor will residents that need employment. There is a need for an Economic Developer, Additional Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Districts and economic stimulus, in some form. The City would also welcome low interest funding. The City needs to find long term economic solutions and the disaster is making that more difficult.
  • Saline County Housing Authority services Harrisburg. George Cain explained the renovation of the blighted John Hay Housing Project in Springfield, Illinois and the Hope VI program that was used for this major renewal. George worked on the project and has plans for 7 prototype houses. The project provided over one hundred single family owned, rental and lease-to-purchase opportunities. Built in early 2000, the property is still managed successfully by the Springfield Housing Authority. Harrisburg may be interested in such a development for low income housing.
  • Harrisburg is touted as the Gateway to the Shawnee National Forest, but sees little revenue from travelers because of government restraints on the number of people and activities allowed at the site. The area hit by the tornado was once home to a Forest Service Building. Harrisburg welcomes a greater connection to the National site and the possibility of housing an interpretive center or tourism gateway building. The Forest Service may be able to lease sites. Harrisburg has tried unsuccessfully to create the connection and feels hindered by government obstacles. Harrisburg would like to work with government officials and departments, such as the Forrest Service, the Department of Natural Resources, Congressman John Shimkus, Representative Brandon Phelps, Senator Gary Forby and others to reach this goal.
  • Before new construction begins in the badly hit area of the Country Club, new water mains should be constructed. The original water mains are too small and poorly constructed for the demands of this area. These mains have been a maintenance issue for the City for years.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the group met with Bill Gnech for a tour of the damaged sites and additional photos. A map of the disaster areas was provided.


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Organization Information

Architecture for Humanity

Location: San Francisco, CA - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.architectureforhumanity.org
Architecture for Humanity
Project Leader:
Architecture for Humanity
San Francisco, CA United States

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