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.