May 21, 2013 UT Architecture Students Design, Remodel Home of Family with Disabilities

Architecture students at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, are designing and remodeling the home of a mother and daughter who have disabilities.

The project, which will provide wheelchair access to the home, is expected to be completed by Wednesday, May 22.

The home of Wanda Skeen and her daughter Stacey is getting the makeover through UT Freedom by Design, a student service organization that is part of the American Institute of Architecture Students.

“It is really amazing to be able to help others who aren’t able to help themselves,” said Matt Barnett, a fourth-year architecture student and the project manager of UT Freedom by Design. “Freedom By Design allows me to use what I’ve learned as an architecture student and over the course of my life to give the gift of freedom to those with disabilities who need it most.”

Barnett noted that the Skeens have had a host of medical problems. Wanda has been through cancer, open heart surgery and a stroke. Stacey has what doctors believe is multiple sclerosis or brain damage.

The UT students started working on the project in January after Operation Backyard, a free home repair service of the Knoxville Leadership Foundation, told them about the Skeen family. Through several months of design, the students developed something that fitted their resources and the clients’ needs. They began construction on the project on May 1.

The student team has built a wrap-around deck to both the front and back entrances of the house. This will be connected to a new large, flat concrete slab, which will allow wheelchairs to exit a car on a flat surface that is level with the main entrance. The students have also salvaged parts of the home in disrepair, landscaped and created gardens for the family.

“Through donations we are able to reframe the home’s rotting overhang and provide a much wider pathway to the entrance,” Barnett said. “With our excess material we inquired about something special for Wanda. We made two railroad tie planters that will allow Wanda to plant flowers and herbs directly from her wheelchair on the deck.”

Several East Tennessee businesses partnered with the architecture students on the project. Operation Backyard provided all of the lumber, Tennessee Stone donated flag stone, Sequatchie Concrete donated the concrete and labor for the slab, Acadia Landscape provided the landscaping plants and gravel, JRC Company discounted the railroad ties and delivery, and Craig Dotson of GEOConex provided funds to assist the students.

Freedom by Design’s goal is to use students’ architecture and design talents to improve the homes of disabled or low-income people. This is the second project by the UT chapter. The group designed a ramp for a special-needs child last year.

“This has by far been my most rewarding experience at UT because I get to work as a team with other students through all the processes of design—from finding a client and working closely with them to designing and carrying out full construction,” Barnett said.

Architecture students who worked on the project include Gus Carodine, Jennifer Elder, Zach Mulitauaopele, Alex Paisley, Michael Sena, Michael Turko, Joseph Wessels and Billy Yang.

The organization’s officers are Jarod Dotson, director; Melissa Dooley, treasurer; Thomas Agee, secretary; and Brice Holmes, assistant project manager.

C O N T A C T :

Kiki Roeder (865-974-6713,

R E L A T E D  N E W S :

Knoxville News Sentinel (second page, 22 May 13): “UT architecture students design home’s makeover

[showcase id=”2430″]