ULS Serves Grant serves community

April 23, 2008

by Sarah Deason

In 2006, hundreds of Hurricane Katrina victims found security in Ruston, safely relocated away from coastal areas. Shocked and unprepared, volunteers shared their food and homes with these survivors.

Louisiana residents share a fear that a future hurricane could cause the same or higher magnitude of damage and hope that it will never happen again.

In response to the devastation caused by Katrina, University of Louisiana System has awarded Louisiana Universities the ULS Serves Grant, a one million dollar grant to prepare for future natural disasters in Louisiana.

In conjunction with the School of Forestry and the School of Nursing, the interior design department is designing a transformation of abandoned buildings in Ruston into environmentally sustainable emergency shelters.

Vibhavari Jani, an assistant professor of interior design, said Louisiana was not prepared for Katrina.

“If this ever happened again, we could be prepared by reusing old, abandoned buildings,” she said. “We are doing disaster relief in a different way.”

The design proposal suggests converting the hangars located at the unused Ruston airport into emergency shelters, Jani said.

She also said students have researched a variety of possible “green” materials to incorporate in the design.

“Part of the grant is to educate people about the environment. We all take from society, but we don’t give back. The reason we do service grants is to instill in students to give back,” she said. “Promoting a service learning aspect of education is not only community service, but students learn skills through service. The idea is to show people and spread it to other cities to use.”

Interior design students and faculty were developing a similar project prior to the ULS Serves Grant, Jani said.

“Last year, we came up with designs of prototypes for New Orleans post Hurricane Katrina,” she said.

Jani said the second phase is to build in cities, which is exactly what the interior design department intends to do in Ruston.

Emily Chapman, a junior Interior design major, thinks Ruston is almost perfect for this project.

“It is a lot about location. Ruston is in North Louisiana, it’s a safe town, natural disasters don’t happen here usually, and the driving distance is close,” she said. “The shelters could be used for domestic violence. This is very multi-functional.”

Not only does the project provide disaster relief, it promotes sustainable living, Chapman said.

“People don’t understand what green design is. This is the first time we’re being educated on it, too. We’ve experimented and researched. We can adapt,” she said. “When you fix one problem, you solve two. It’s a lifestyle.”

Katy Gilloon, junior interior design major, agrees that people need to be educated about green design.

“People don’t know. Green design is about being regional and seasonal,” she said. “Eating one organic meal a week could save 100,000 gallons of fuel a week.”