Appalachia Project Receives National Recognition

Jun. 17, 2016
Red Bird Open End copy

The College of Architecture and Design is among a collaboration of colleges at the University of Tennessee to be recognized nationally for a project designed to improve the wellness and disaster readiness of the Red Bird community in Clay County, Kentucky.

The UT collaboration received the C. Peter Magrath/W.K. Kellogg Exemplary Program designation this year in recognition of the Appalachia Community Health and Disaster Readiness Project.  A part of the project was the design and construction of a water distribution structure that serves the 9,000 families in the Red Bird community. The design/build project was led by Professor John McRae, FAIA, and carried out by faculty and students from the College of Architecture and Design’s schools of Architecture, Interior Design and Landscape Architecture, as well as students from the UT colleges of Nursing and Engineering and the UT Law Enforcement Innovation Center.

“When UT’s architecture students started designing the water kiosk, they knew this was something important and life changing for the families in Clay County,” said McRae. “Then when they put hammer to nail, they saw that their work was transforming not just the community in Kentucky but also the community of collaborators at UT.  Many apparently divergent groups came together in Knoxville to determine how we can best help the good people in Clay County live healthier lives, and because of this collaboration, we made a difference through architecture, outreach and education.  We’re thrilled to have worked with nursing, engineering and law enforcement on this experience-learning project.”

The water kiosk was prefabricated over a three-month period in the College of Architecture and Design’s Fab Lab and constructed on site in Kentucky during a one-week period in spring 2015.  Merit Construction served as general contractor, and other firms supporting the effort include DJ Construction, Cannon+Cannon, Harrison Concrete, Paulk + Company, McAbee Hayes Consulting, Pop Fizz, Master Welder Rick Comer and safety and staging provided by Steve Loy.

Red Bird water kiosk

The structure, which was funded by a grant from the United Methodist Committee on Relief and private donations, contains two water dispensers, a covered area for a farmer’s market and a cistern for rainwater collection for use in the adjacent greenhouse. In November 2015, the structure received a Design Award of Merit from the American Institute of Architects East Tennessee.

The Appalachia Project began in 2013 when UT won a three-year $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration. It has involved faculty and students from UT’s College of Nursing, College of Architecture and Design, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Law Enforcement Innovation Center.

As part of the project, UT partnered with Clay County’s Red Bird Mission, Clay County Emergency Management Services, local clergy, elected officials, teachers and law enforcement personnel.

In addition to the water kiosk, project outcomes include health and safety education and support. Community-based emergency management personnel and local residents have completed multiple disaster life-support courses, and the UT team identified home safety and health hazards and have begun to help the community address them through replicable low-cost solutions for repairs, replacement and mold remediation.

Clay County ranks near the bottom for the state’s major health indicators, including obesity, infant mortality and disability. In rural areas, clean water is hard to come by; flooding is common; and mold is ubiquitous.

UT Provost Susan Martin said it is an honor for UT to be recognized for efforts to become even more engaged with its communities.

“We have worked diligently to foster collaboration among our academic departments to provide students with opportunities to learn through service and gain hands-on, real-world experience,” she said. “I congratulate the faculty and students involved in this project for the difference they have helped make in so many people’s lives.”

“This project exemplifies how nurses can partner with diverse professions and the community to promote health and wellness,” said Victoria Niederhauser, dean of the College of Nursing. “We are very proud of the work of everyone involved—the 150 students, the faculty, the community partners and other professionals.”

John Schwartz, associate professor of civil engineering and a project leader, noted that the exemplary designation illustrates how faculty and student engagement can be accomplished among academic disciplines that traditionally have not collaborated to any great extent.

“Over a three-year period, civil engineering seniors and students from the other disciplines completed capstone design projects, including a design of a large dam and reservoir, the water kiosk, and a sanitary sewer and treatment system for Clay County,” he said. “The projects provided a great opportunity for students to work with other university students on challenging real-world problems in our country.”

Along with UT, four other institutions received the exemplary designation: Cornell University, University of Missouri Extension, New Mexico State University and the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

The UT Appalachia Project team includes Lisa Davenport and Meghan Hayes from the College of Nursing; John McRae, Michelle Mokry and David Matthews from the College of Architecture and Design; John Schwartz and Jenny Retherford from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering; and Don Green and Emily Miller from the Law Enforcement Innovation Center. Gary Skolits and Stephanie Robinson from the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences conducted project evaluations.

Community partners are Tracy Nolan of Red Bird Mission and David Watson, Clay County emergency management director.

The C. Peter Magrath/W.K. Kellogg Exemplary Program award is sponsored by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and presented jointly by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and the Engagement Scholarship Association. The award recognizes universities’ extraordinary community outreach initiatives in the U.S., Mexico, U.S. territories and several countries in Africa.